Empty bowls to feed souls

Amelia Peterson

A large crowd of people bumped shoulders and clinked bowls as they made their way through Kirby’s Fine dining Saturday during the 2014 Empty Bowls event, which sold out in just two hours.

Through the purchase of handmade ceramic bowls, locals can enjoy hot soup while feeding those who go hungry in the Evansville community.

With the instruction of ceramics students, community volunteers created bowls that will be sold for $10 each at the Empty Bowls event to raise money for charity. Free soup will be provided by Tom + Chee, PG, The Dapper Pig, Sauced, Perfectly Fresh and Woodbine.

Empty Bowls is a national non-profit organization that lends its name to any group that wants to create ceramic bowls to raise money for hunger. The company sends a stamp to registered Empty Bowls events, allowing each bowl to be stamped with the event’s official seal.

“(Empty Bowls) has a national draw,” said assistant professor of art Alisa Holen, who will host the event for the fourth time on Saturday. “It has credibility, and people know what it is without having to give the long explanation.”

Holen said the event sells out every year. Although the volunteers plan for Empty Bowls to last for two hours, they usually run out of bowls and soup after only an hour and a half.

“It’s like Christmas morning. You do all the preparation, all the wrapping, all the work and then poof, it’s gone,” Holen said. “The beauty is that, even though it goes by quickly, a huge amount of money is given to people who can use it to eat throughout the year.”

In previous years ceramics students voted on which hunger-based organization would receive the money earned through Empty Bowls. Typically the students researched various community organizations on their own.

This year, however, English instructor Audrey Hillyer took up Empty Bowls as a grant-writing exercise. Her students uploaded videos to pitch charities on VoiceThread, and then the ceramics students viewed each video before voting on which organizations would receive donations.

“These students did these great presentations and my students were really moved, in particular by ECHO Housing, who takes care of homeless veterans and their families,” Holen said.

Although ECHO Housing covers veterans’ homes through government funding, the organization’s grants do not allow it to feed the veterans or assist them with grocery bills. A large portion of the proceeds from Empty Bowls will go toward setting up a food bank for the organization, Holen said.

Patchwork Central, which provides food in emergency situations or to families in need, will be another recipient of Empty Bowls donations. The third recipient will be United Caring Services, which has received a donation from Empty Bowls every year.

Some of the groups that donated handmade bowls this year included USI women’s basketball, North Posey High School, Deaconess Hospital, Bosse High School and Arts, Beats and Eats.

“The bowls are made by people who sometimes have never thrown a bowl or been on a potter’s wheel before, so it’s fun,” Holen said. “It’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists to learn how to throw pots, and it’s a great opportunity for them to come in and do that.”

Holen said the price volunteers pay for the chance to learn to throw on a potter’s wheel is giving up their bowls for the fundraiser. If the volunteers attend the event, however, they can purchase the bowls that they made. Because volunteers signed their bowls, they can find them at the event on the table set aside for their organization.

“Bringing almost 200 people into the ceramic studio to make bowls means that there will be almost 200 people who show up to the event, and that’s what I banked on when I first came up with the idea for how to do this,” Holen said.

Over the years, Empty Bowls grew to the point where Holen needed to turn away groups that wanted to participate. Holen said that last year there was a line of 300 people who came for the event, and she expects a great turn out this year as well.

“I think it’s really beautiful,” Holen said. “I could never give a $10,000 check to my favorite charity, but I can rally the troops. I can get people excited about clay, and then together as a community we can make a difference.”

Holen’s ceramics courses are service learning opportunities since the ceramics students help in the creation and preparation of the bowls.

“Their service learning is that shortly after they learn how to make bowls, they teach other people how to. Their service learning is to teach volunteers,” Holen said.

One of these students, Amanda Graham, said she loved being involved in Empty Bowls because it gave her the chance to help the community through art.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Graham said.

The sophomore economics major said she trimmed bowls after they were thrown by volunteers.

“I really like it,” Graham said. “It’s a great way to practice your own skills while helping someone else.”


What: Empty Bowls, Evansville

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 7

Where: Kirby’s at Haynie’s Corner

Cost: $10 per bowl (proceeds to ECHO Housing, Patchwork Central and United Caring Services)