Empty Bowls events yield big rewards - Catholic Courier
Thom Stollar throws a bowl to be used in Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Empty Bowls events in this 2010 file photo taken at the Rochester Folk Art Guild in Middlesex, Yates County. Thom Stollar throws a bowl to be used in Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Empty Bowls events in this 2010 file photo taken at the Rochester Folk Art Guild in Middlesex, Yates County.

Empty Bowls events yield big rewards

It should come as no surprise that the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes is hoping for a good turnout at the three fundraising dinners the agency is holding later this month.

What might be more surprising is the fact that she hopes those who do attend the dinners leave feeling less than satisfied.

"They’re supposed to leave there a little bit hungry," remarked Ellen Wayne, executive director.

That’s because Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Empty Bowls events are as much about raising awareness about the issue of hunger as they are about raising money, Wayne explained. People who attend the Empty Bowls events partake in a simple soup supper and learn a few facts about hunger and local hunger-relief and anti-poverty efforts. When the evening is over, they’re sent home with homemade pottery bowls, which are intended to serve as a reminder of what they’ve learned about hunger and food insecurity, Wayne said.

The idea for the Empty Bowls events was born in Michigan and since has spread across the nation, she added. Locally, Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes held its first Empty Bowls event in Geneva in 2007, and the dinner was so well-received that the agency eventually began holding the event in other cities within the area it serves. This year’s Empty Bowls dinners will be held in Geneva on Oct. 10, Auburn on Oct. 16 and Canandaigua on Oct. 24. Tickets for the dinners may be purchased at the door for $20 for adults or $10 for students.

The dinners are held in October because Oct. 16 is World Hunger Day, Wayne said. The three dinners enable Catholic Charities staff to stretch World Hunger Day out and place an emphasis on hunger awareness throughout the whole month of October.

"There’s such a vast population of the world that’s hungry. Even if little by little we started to get the word out, maybe we stand to have a fighting chance in our generation of making a difference," Wayne said. "Considering it’s a very humble event, (an Empty Bowls dinner) really does have a great return on investment, not only financial, but also in terms of the awareness of the community."

Diners at the Empty Bowls dinners use placemats that have facts about hunger on a local, state and even global level, she added. Each placemat includes different facts, and diners are encouraged to share these facts with each other and discuss them. More than 100 people usually attend each dinner, so the events really help build awareness of hunger issues, especially in the local community, Wayne said.

The plight of the hungry remains on many participants’ minds long after they’ve returned home from the dinners, she added. Several people have told her they use their empty soup bowls to collect spare change, which they later donate to agencies that have hunger-relief programs. Other families leave the empty bowls on their tables while they eat dinner to remind them of others who don’t have enough to eat. Some young participants use their bowls when they eat their cereal in the morning, and this, too, serves as a constant reminder of those in need, Wayne said.

The initiative’s reach extends beyond those who actually attend the Empty Bowls events, she added. Each year Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes enlists the help of dozens of artists and students, who make and donate the pottery bowls. The agency has developed partnerships with a number of school districts in the Finger Lakes region, including Geneva, Weedsport and Port Byron. Students in these districts make bowls during their art classes, and Wayne visits the classrooms to tell the students a little bit about local poverty and hunger.

"It really is about getting them to understand why we run the programs that we do, and how critical it is to be able to respond to people in need in our community," Wayne said.

The Empty Bowls events also have spurred Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes to form a partnership with the potters of the Rochester Folk Art Guild.

"They have really been on board with us since day one. They literally roll their sleeves up and make these bowls. They make 75 or 80 for us," Wayne said.

The potters, for their part, enjoy working with Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, said Annie Schliffer, head of the Rochester Folk Art Guild’s pottery studio. They originally got involved with the project in 2007 because they wanted to do some outreach and support some of the good things going on in their community, noted Schliffer, who has attended several of the Empty Bowls events.

"The dinner is very nice, and it’s a great reminder of the fact that not everyone has enough food to eat. We think we’re such an affluent country, and yet here are people who don’t have adequate nutrition," she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the Empty Bowls events or to learn how to get involved, contact Rhonda Zettlemoyer at 315-789-2686, ext. 104.


Tags: Catholic Charities
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