Every year artists around the world donate hand-painted and crafted bowls to help raise awareness and support local hunger and homelessness.
Empty Bowls projects originated in Michigan in 1990 when a class of high school students and their teacher wanted to find a way to raise money for a food drive. Now, there are Empty Bowl projects throughout the United States and at least 12 other countries.
In Memphis, artists created and donated more than 300 different bowls. at the Memphis project for guests to choose from.
“The empty bowl is a powerful symbol because guests leave the event with a literal empty bowl as a reminder of all the people in our community who face hunger,” Sarah Ranson, one of the co-chairs for the Memphis project, said.
Ranson said she and her co-chair, Jaime Winton, who is also an artist for the event, volunteer at a local food pantry. They decided to start this event because they saw the need for help with hunger in their community. She said the Empty Bowl project appealed to Winton because she wants to create “art as an act of compassion.”
“The event raises funds for hunger-relief agencies, but also raises awareness about food insecurity in our community,” Ranson said. “We hope guests will leave feeling empowered to do something about the problem.”
One in five people in Shelby County face food insecurity, which is higher than the national average of one in eight.
Donations from the Memphis Empty Bowls project were just over $18,000. The money was divided evenly between the nutrition education program of the Church Health Center, the Mid-South Food Bank, and the food ministries of St. John’s United Methodist Church.
“These organizations were chosen because of their work in combating hunger and striving for health for all members of our community,” Ranson said.
More than 70 people volunteered throughout the weekend to support the event.
“Memphis is one of the hungriest cities in the nation,” Christine Jehu, a volunteer for the project, said. “We have so much wealth next door to so much need.”
Jehu is a doctoral student at the University of Memphis. She said she heard about the project at her church and wanted to get involved.
“One of my passions is to raise awareness for people with food insecurities,” she said.
Ashley Baker, volunteer coordinator for the event, said she knew very little about Empty Bowls before helping with the project but was “interested in fighting hunger.”
“This project is very dynamic because it involves Memphians of various ages and backgrounds, raises awareness about hunger issues within our community and bonds each person involved with the common cause of ending our city’s hunger,” Baker said.
The Memphis Empty Bowls project was held Sunday November 11 at 5 p.m. at Church Health Center Wellness. A minimum donation of $20 was required to attend the event, but the cost included a soup and bread meal and one of the empty bowls that was donated.
There were a total of 300 tickets that could be sold to the event and they sold out. The event coordinators had a fundraising goal of $10,000 that was greatly exceeded.
“Because we sold out and had a high demand for tickets afterwards, we are looking for ways to expand our capacity so that we can increase ticket sales and participation in the event next year,” Ranson said.
Mid-South Food Bank
Mid-South Food Bank received $6,000 from the Memphis Empty Bowl Project, and that dollar amount will supply $4,800 meals around the city.
The organization partners with various soup kitchens, shelters, food pantries, youth and senior centers, and other organizations to supply meals to the people served by the organization.
Marcia Wells, communications director for the Mid-South Food Bank, said they help 407,000 people a year that usually do not have money for food or cannot get transportation to a place to buy food.
This year, the Mid-South Food Bank has been able to raise 12.3 million dollars to support their cause. Wells said that they have a “very generous, caring community” that contributed the funds to help them feed more people.
“We are proud to partner with them and hope they will make it an annual event,” Wells said.