Sunday, October 10, 2010

Empty Bowls - 20 years of fighting hunger!

Empty Bowls event at John Hartom's studio
Asheville Empty Bowls 2009
Next Thursday, October 14 is the annual Asheville Empty Bowls Luncheon at the Doubletree Biltmore Hotel (tickets available online via MANNA FoodBank, through me if you can find me, or at the door ... but I wouldn't wait that long!).

Two days later, October 16 is World Food Day, and that marks the 20th Anniversary of the very first Empty Bowls event.  What started in a Michigan school as a modest lesson about hunger has turned into one of the finest examples of grass roots social justice activism.  Communities coming together to help each other .. individuals finding ways to help each other and their greater community.  

The beauty of the Empty Bowls program is that anyone can do it.  Sure, you can get your whole school, community center, church, studio, etc. to join forces.  Much like the Empty Bowls Project class that meets at Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts.  

members of the 2010 Empty Bowls Project at Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts
Odyssey and Highwater Clays owner Brian McCarthy has donated tremendous resources in clay, glazes, firings and support staff for the past four years to help experienced and beginner potters make and provide the bowls for the annual luncheon.  

bowls by Asheville potter Paul Frehe
We have people from all around our community, some traveling an hour each way just to take part in the class.  We have guest instructors from all disciplines come to share their knowledge and passion for both pottery and fighting hunger.  We all do together far more than any of us can do alone.  That's the AnyONE.  Each of us doing our little part, added up makes a big ol' difference.  Whether you raise $60 or $60,000.  Each step is an important step.

So here we are 20 years down the road from that small school luncheon.  A few words on hunger stats, and a simple request that when the guests take their hand made bowls home and enjoy them, they remember the number of empty bowls still out in the community.  A quiet hush that you still hear now just telling the story.  Yes, hunger still exists at obscene levels in all communities.  
But the more the Empty Bowls Project is talked about, the more people learn how they can do very simple things to make very big changes and differences in the lives of those in their community who may need a little or a lot of help.   One little event in a Michigan school, and now there are events around the world.  

And that's well before the time of an idea 'going viral'.  There are many Empty Bowls events that happen year-round, and many, like the one here in Asheville, that are scheduled to coincide with World Food Day. 

Becca Floyd & John Hartom in the Empty Bowls studio

Next Thursday we will have the annual luncheon, where for a $25 ticket you can select from hundreds of beautiful, handmade ceramic bowls, enjoy a delicious lunch and learn more about what MANNA FoodBank does for the many counties it serves and how easy it is to help.  

We have a growing selection of specialty pieces in the Collector's Corner that will be for sale, and all proceeds will benefit MANNA FoodBank.

 (far L&R): Lisa Blackburn & John Hartom
Then on Sunday, October 17, Blue Spiral 1 Gallery will host a special auction event to commemorate the 20th Anniversary, and Empty Bowls founders John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn will be honored.  At Blue Spiral, you can see the auction items on display now in the gallery, and you can also see and bid on them online, even if you can't attend the actual event.  Some of the items are bowls and other art pieces in ceramics, wood and glass that have been donated by area artists.  


In addition, we have an eclectic selection of 'celebrity bowls'.  Flat Rock potter David Voorhees made each bowl, which was then signed by celebrities, including Paula Deen, John Glenn, Henry Winkler, Jeff Gordon, Roy Williams and more (go look and see!).  Odyssey again hosted a special event where Asheville area artists (not just potters!) were invited to decorate the bowls.  At the auction site, you can learn a bit about the celebrity as well as the artist who decorated the bowl.  Tickets to the auction event are also available through MANNA FoodBank.

Olympic Peninsula
So as we approach World Food Day, why not check in your own community and see if there's an Empty Bowls event.  Attend it, volunteer to help run it, or if you can't find one, go to the Empty Bowls website and learn how you can start one for your community!  It doesn't have to be a huge city-wide event.  You can make a pot of soup, host an event at your house and sell 10 tickets.  That makes a difference to a Food Pantry.  


Here in Asheville, our event is larger than that sure. MANNA FoodBank has a very large area it serves, and the need has been greater in the past year or two than ever.  The statistics that come out with recent Hunger Reports are overwhelming, and it's easy to just curl up and cry 'what can I do?!'. Well for me, I can make a bowl.  And that bowl will be sold for $25.  And with each dollar raised, MANNA can provide three meals.  I can't personally feed 75 people or write a check to cover that expense.  But I can make a bowl.  Heck, I can make a few.

I have a friend and colleague in Wisconsin who I know because of Empty Bowls.  We haven't met (yet), but we certainly share a passion for pottery and for this cause.  After her first Empty Bowls event, she went back to her studio and wrote on her wall: "It is an honor to make dishes for people to eat off of, but it is a greater honor to make dishes so that others may eat...".  Indeed.