10 years of Empty Bowls


BRATTLEBORO -- It seemed like a good idea.

Ten years ago a small group of volunteers decided to hold an Empty Bowls event in Brattleboro to help raise money for the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center.

The first Empty Bowls was initiated in Michigan in 1991 when an art teacher there gathered a group of friends to make a bunch of ceramic bowls which they sold to raise money for the local food shelf.

There are plenty of potters in southeastern Vermont, and a need to support those who struggle to put enough food on the table, so in 2004 the first Empty Bowls dinner was held in Brattleboro to raise money for the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, a food shelf and support center for low-income people in the region.

The dinner was held at St. Michael's Church in Brattleboro, and few hundred people showed up.

They raised about $1,500, everyone had a good time, and so it seemed like something that should happen annually.

Now, a decade later, the Empty Bowls Dinner is held at the Landmark College cafeteria, there are two seatings, and hundreds of bowls are produced for the event.

Last year organizers helped raise $38,000 for the Drop In Center.

"The money that is raised at Empty Bowls really fills a gap in funding for us," said Brattleboro Area Drop In Center Executive Director Lucie Fortier. "It really helps when I am ordering to know this money is going to be there."

The 10th annual Empty Bowls Dinner will be held Saturday, Oct. 12, at Landmark College, with seatings at 5 and 6:30 p.m.

A $25 donation buys a bowl of soup, bread, cheese and dessert and the guests get to take a handmade ceramic bowl home.

Fortier said the influx of cash that is raised through the Empty Bowls event always comes during a particularly challenging time at the drop in center.

Project Feed the Thousands, the drop in center's most important fundraising event, is still a month away from starting, families are back at school, and the drop in center is preparing for the winter overflow shelter as well as trying to prepare for all of the need that arises around the holidays.

Fortier said there is always a need for more support at the drop in center, but with what is happening in Washington, D.C. these days, the situation could get even worse.

Fortier says she has been told there is money to fund the Food Stamp program through October, but if the government shut down extends into November that funding could disappear.

Which means Fortier will be serving many more people with her same limited resources.

"They don't know how long it will go on, or what will happen. It is definitely going to put a hardship on us," she said. "If the shut down continues there is going to be more pressure on our area."

Naomi Lindenfeld is a ceramic artist who has been involved in the Empty Bowls dinners in Brattleboro since the first year.

She said the dinner has become a very strong and well run event, and after 10 years organizers know how to move and heat up hundreds of gallons of donated soup, move all of the bowls safely and get the crowds though the food line during the dinner.

All over the area professional potters and students make and donate the bowls and area restaurants and food producers donate the food.

Bowls are also sold during Gallery Walk in September and October and outside of the Brattleboro Food Co-op in the weeks leading up to the dinner.

"We are a well-oiled machine at this point," she said. "We have so many volunteers who make bowls and volunteer at the dinner. A lot of people put a lot of energy into this."

But even beyond the money that comes in Fortier says the event helps raise awareness about the drop in center and about hunger in the region.

Among the approximately 650 people who show up for the dinner, there are usually some who might not have heard about the drop in center, and could become future donors or volunteers.

And Fortier says every bowl that goes home with a guest carries with it the reminder that hunger and food insecurity exist within the community.

"When you get there and you see all those bowls it's overwhelming to think of all the people who are hungry," Fortier said. "It's important to remember that hunger is a year-round issue."

Tickets for this year's Empty Bowl dinner are available at Everyone's Books and The Shoe Tree in Brattleboro and at Offerings Jewelry in Putney. Tickets can also be reserved by calling 802-852-4286.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 279 or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard @HowardReformer.


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