The annual Empty Bowls, which takes place at Stevens Point Area High School (SPASH) raised $23,000 last year and more than $170,000 for hunger and poverty needs over the last 11 years in Portage County.
The 12th annual Empty Bowls community project will be at SPASH, 1201 North Point Drive, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19. The event costs $11 to attend and includes a bowl painted by local potters, community members and students, beverage, bread and dessert.
Last year was the first year Empty Bowls made use of a “to-go” drive-through and will be doing it again this year for those who want to help out but don’t have the time to come in for a sit-down meal.
The event, which was started by a high school art teacher in Michigan, was adopted by Lauri Rockman, Stevens Point Empty Bowls founder, after reading about the event’s success in Milwaukee.
“Milwaukee was one of the first in Wisconsin,” she said. “We read about it and thought, ‘we can do that here’ and the Hunger Partnership was already in existence at the time so we took the idea to the partnership, which I chaired at the time, and they agreed, and from then on it was full steam ahead.”
The event has continued to grow from a couple hundred people to more than 1,000 attendees last year.
“It has gotten bigger and bigger,” Rockman said. “It has been fabulous; we have been adding things and increasing community involvement.”
When Empty Bowls started 12 years ago the bowls used were donated by professional potters; however, now that the event has grown exponentially, the organization orders bowls, and has students and volunteers from the community paint them. They do still have a handful of students and potters who continue to donate handmade bowls for the cause.
“When the event grew to 1,000 attendees it wasn’t possible to have local potters make all of the bowls any more, but by allowing the community to help paint the bowls, we’ve been able to increase community participation and awareness,” Rockman said.
Bowls not sold this year will be kept for next year’s Empty Bowls fundraiser and extra soup will be donated to Salvation Army and the Family Crisis Center.
“Even though you’re not seeing homeless people on the streets in Portage County, that doesn’t mean there aren’t homeless and hungry people here,” Empty Bowls Media Coordinator Greg Hansel said. “There are hungry and homeless students in Stevens Point who are getting free and reduced lunch in the public and Catholic schools; those numbers have gone up significantly in the last 10 years.
“It is getting harder and harder since the recession five years ago. People haven’t recovered and if someone has a medical emergency or loses their job, it can cause a struggle.”
Nearly 40 local restaurants will donate a wide variety of soups for this year’s empty bowls.
“They do some great recipes,” Hansel said. “It is not your basic chicken noodle.”
Attendees can buy more than one bowl and will be able to sample multiple kinds of soup if they choose but will have to stand in line again to do so.
During the event local band, Uptown will perform. There will also be a raffle, which will include baskets, gift certificates and items from a wide variety of local businesses. People who attend will be able to watch pottery demonstrations and purchase cutting boards and T-shirts to support Empty Bowls. Tickets for the raffle will be $2 each, three for $5 or six for $10.
Friday, Oct. 18, Bread for the World, a national hunger advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., will show the documentary “A Place at the Table” at 8 p.m. at the Dreyfus University Theater at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The documentary focuses on hunger and obesity in America and will tie into hunger issues on a national and global level. After the film, Asma Lateef, director of Bread For The World Institute, will be available to answer questions. The showing is free and open to the public.
“Portage County is a very generous, caring community and we can see that in the various events people come out to support,” Rockman said. “For people who think this isn’t happening in our community, you need to talk to Salvation Army and Operation Bootstrap – the people who are hungry in our community are not sitting out on the streets collecting money – they are people who are working, have been laid off or who are elderly and living on limited Social Security checks.
“The event touches a lot of people in one way or another. The face of hunger isn’t always visible.”