PUTNEY -- While Columbus Day weekend in Windham County means an onslaught of apple pies, tag sales and leaf peepers, it also marks the Empty Bowls Dinner in Putney.

Landmark College played host to the sixth annual dinner Saturday evening with more than 650 county residents coming together to have a bowl of soup to raise money for the Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center.

The event is the most important fundraiser of the year for the center, bringing in money to assist the more than 7,000 individuals using its services. In years past, Empty Bowls has raised more than $20,000 and sells hundreds of tickets for the drop in center.

"This year, we’re aiming for $25,000," said Naomi Lindenfeld, an independent potter and part of the Empty Bowls publicity committee.

Melinda Bussino, executive director of the Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center, said the event brings in a significant amount of the organization’s budget.

Empty Bowls gets larger each year, and traditionally sells out every seat at Landmark’s dining hall, she said.

Dinner organizers strengthened their efforts in the community ahead of time this year, increasing the sales prior to the event in front of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, at Landmark College and on Gallery Walk. The efforts paid off as organizers pulled in $2,000 before serving the first bowl of soup.

More than 1,000 bowls are produced by community potters and other volunteers for the event. Lindenfeld, who is also a ceramics teacher, made a dozen herself and her students contributed 18 more.

Every summer, art studios around Brattleboro make ceramic bowls of every color and size to donate to the charity dinner. This is artists using their skills and trade to raise money for an important cause, said Lindenfeld.

Additionally, all the food, services and labor is donated to ensure a successful Empty Bowls each autumn. Many Brattleboro Union High School students also volunteer at the event as part of their community service participation.

"We don’t pay for a thing and we feed 800 people, and every single penny does to the Drop-In Center," said Elisabeth Ungerleider, also with the publicity team.

It is a simple meal of soup, bread, apples, cheese and a drink to assist the center, she added.

The evening offers two seatings for 350 people each. For a $20 donation, guests can choose a locally handmade bowl and put some nutritious soup and bread in it while sitting in a friendly environment with their neighbors and loved ones while live music is played in the background.

It is amazing to see so many people smiling and looking for the perfect bowl, tasting the soups and making new friends, said Bussino.

"It makes me feel wonderful ... it’s just always a good thing all the way around," she said.

Once the event is over, guests may keep the bowl as a reminder that even as they are full, there are many hungry mouths in the world each day. The first Empty Bowls dinner was modeled after a similar fundraiser in Michigan more than 25 years ago.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.