Empty Bowls benefit Pierce County hungry
by Peg Doman

What does a bowl of soup have to do with alleviating hunger? Well, Come to South Park Community Center on November 9, from 2 to 7 p.m., and you can pick a donated handmade pottery bowl to be filled with donated soup, served with donated bread and eat your meal on a donated handmade placemat. This is the idea behind Empty Bowls, a fund raiser for the Emergency Food Network (EFN) and Tacoma Recreation Foundation.

The bowls, at a suggested donation of $10, and the placemats, at a suggested donation of $5, are to be taken home as a reminder that the need continues to help fill the “empty bowls” of children and families in need. Admission is free. Donations of more than $10 are welcome.

The artists from the Washington Potters Association, Tacoma Weavers Guild and Tacoma area schools and are working with the Art Center at Manitou to produce hundreds of bowls and placemats. One potter, Patty Becker, has reached her personal goal of 100 bowls for the event. Most bowls are decorated or glazed by the original potters who want to maintain their vision, but some bowls have been decorated by volunteers and fellow artists. The bowls are glazed and fired at the Metro Parks Tacoma Art Center if necessary. Students participating in after-school programs at the center have been pitching in, too.

David Ottey, EFN Executive Director, hopes for 400 bowls but that number has been already exceeded. Sandy Early, coordinator of the pottery room at the Art Center, says that she hopes for about 1,000 bowls. Because people from all over the state are donating, the number of artists contributing won’t be known until after the event.

Roman Meal is donating the bread for the meal and soups are being brought over by Manitou Perk (roasted vegetable soup), Molinar Tortilla Factory (chicken vegetable with rice and tortillas), and The Swiss (black bean).

The food and art event is called "the wedding of body and soul," because it fills stomachs with bread and soup while beguiling minds with the artistry of the donated items; meanwhile Empty Bowls benefits the Emergency Food Network and helps provide recreational programs through the support of the Tacoma Recreation Foundation, an event partner.

Ottey states that the need for food in Pierce County used to have seasonal peaks and flows with the biggest upsurge of need in September. Now, the need is steady throughout the year. The (EFN) supports 70 food banks and hot meal sites in Pierce County, from Point Defiance to Fort Lewis, and from Gig Harbor to Eatonville in the Cascade foothills. With 52 per cent of the people served being under 19 years of age or over 55, these food banks serve 50,000 individuals a month; hot meal sites serve 25,000 meals a month.

The Empty Bowl project began in Oxford Michigan in 1991. Two artists formed their own non-profit organization to "create positive social change through the arts and art education." They considered it a way to get local artists, potters and weavers, to get exposure for their work in the community and to bring together the art community and hunger services for the betterment of both. The non-profit freely shares the plans for the project with community organizations or agencies who may be interested in holding an Empty Bowls project in their own community.

The project has been replicated in areas all over the country. A four-year effort in Mesa, Arizona, made $56,000 in 1996 to fight hunger, utilizing three different sites on the same day. It’s even become international, with the first time event in New Zealand. However, Ottey, says, "This is the first (event) in Washington state. Early this year, Don Senecal (director of Manitou Art Center) came to me with the information and asked if we wanted to try the project in conjunction with the Art Center. EFN had never worked with Metro Parks Tacoma before and we were eager to begin an association that may have even more benefits."

What does it take to help fight hunger? To paraphrase an old saying - a bowl of soup, a loaf of bread and you. A $1 in donation can mean $17 in food distributed by EFN.

Come to Empty Bowls, November 9 from 2 to 7 p.m. at South Park Community Center, 4851 South Tacoma Way. For more information, call EFN at 584-1040.

Peg and I attended the event late in the afternoon. There were less than two dozen bowls left. We purchased two and there were people there who arrived after we did. The event was very successful.
-- Don Doman