2015-02-12 / Top News

Empty Bowls will help fill the pantry at Palm Beach County Food Bank

BY AMY WOODS
Special to Florida Weekly


Evelyne Bates of Lighthouse ArtCenter designed these bowls with lace that had belonged to her grandmother. 
COURTESY PHOTO Evelyne Bates of Lighthouse ArtCenter designed these bowls with lace that had belonged to her grandmother. COURTESY PHOTO The rurally rooted idiom “Soup’s on!” will take on a more modern meaning this month during an event dubbed Empty Bowls Palm Beach County.

The food-themed fundraiser — formed to increase awareness of the fact that nearly 20 percent of the community suffers from hunger — will culminate Feb. 13 and 14 in a choreographed, communal meal. Supporters of the Palm Beach County Food Bank will sit down for a humbling lunch of soup and bread during the two days and reflect on those who go to bed each night with empty bowls.

“‘Eat simply so others may simply eat’ is sort of our tag line,” said Pat Reichenbacher, an Empty Bowls Palm Beach County project manager. “There’s something so special about raising money for the Food Bank. Ultimately, it is all about people caring for people.”

The startling statistics on the number of empty bowls in an area known as the Gold Coast will come to life through a display of 1,000 bowls created entirely by volunteers. Each luncheon guest gets to select a symbolic tureen to take home.

“It’s just a very magical experience,” Ms. Reichenbacher said. “It brings together the entire community.”

Since September, Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta has welcomed anyone willing to get his or her hands dirty into its studios to mold clay.

Ms. Reichenbacher went to one of the workshops with a pair of 8-year-olds.

“We told them what it was for, and they put smiley faces on the bowls and hearts, and they wrote ‘I love you,’” she said. “It was amazing to see how much they cared.”

In addition to the workshops, painting nights took place to decorate the bowls. A one-day “throw-a-thon” saw students from Lighthouse ArtCenter spin 70 bowls on the wheel, and a one-day “bowl-athon” featured a community group that produced 100 more. Another 100 bowls came from a ceramics class at Jupiter Community High School.

Topping it all off, a team of 20 professional ceramists from around the county donated handcrafted artisan bowls that will sell at the event for $125.

Empty Bowls will take place Feb. 13 at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-bythe Sea in Palm Beach and Feb. 14 at the Lake Pavilion on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $25.

“Because the event is only $25, it does not exclude anyone,” Ms. Reichenbacher said. “Pretty much everyone can come and participate in helping to feed those in need.”

Chefs from 47 restaurants will make as many varieties of soups, and celebrity servers will ladle them into containers for guests to enjoy.

“We have 170 gallons of soup coming into West Palm,” said Melissa Sullivan, director of advancement at the Food Bank.

Old School Bakery in Delray Beach and Whole Foods Market in Wellington will donate the bread.

Last year, Empty Bowls raised $65,000 for the Food Bank, a nonprofit that distributes boxed and canned goods, as well as fresh produce, to more than 100 places of worship, social-services agencies and soup kitchens. The Food Bank operates on a $2 million annual budget, and every dollar it spends results in $6 worth of food for the poor, Executive Director Perry Borman said.

“Everybody seems to be taking a great interest in participating in Empty Bowls,” Mr. Borman said. “Last year, one of the really cool things for me was Congressman Patrick Murphy, Congressman Ted Deutch and Mayor Jeri Muoio all serving soup at the same time. I thought that was just kind of neat.”

Mr. Borman praised Lighthouse Art- Center for turning the event into a grassroots effort, giving it the same flavor as the international movement that began in the ’90s to fight hunger worldwide.

“I think people will really appreciate this event,” he said. “The diversity of the kind of bowls being made is just fabulous.”

Cynthia Trone, Lighthouse ArtCenter’s director of education, said the challenges the six-month project presented did not outweigh the cause it supported.

“It really comes back to me — always — for the true need for the Palm Beach County Food Bank to raise this money,” Ms. Trone said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Each of the 1,000 bowls underwent a multistep process to transform them from balls of clay into pieces of pottery, including bisque-firing to harden them, waxing to keep them from sticking to tables, glazing to give them color and shine and a second firing to dry the finish.

“It has been a monumental effort,” Ms. Trone said, noting each firing takes a minimum of 12 hours to complete. “It’s a lot of bowls. But I kind of knew that we could do it.”

Nearly every bowl made by volunteers — they ranged in age from 4 to 84 — will make it to the display table at the event.

“Even hand-built bowls that looked a little sorry, we used,” Ms. Trone said.

She plans to post a wall of names at both venues to recognize the 300-plus nonartists who donated their time to test their talent.

“I want people to have an idea of what a group effort it was and how many helped,” Ms. Trone said. “It is pretty amazing.” ¦

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