October 27, 2021

Empty Bowls eases hunger

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

The Loaves & Fishes annual Empty Bowls dinner is set for October 28.

Logan Mydlenski was feeling the pressure — making a ceramic bowl in art class at Homer Junior High School — that a person will buy at the Loaves and Fishes Empty Bowls fundraiser.

“This is pinch pot method, where you make like a bowl and you stick your thumbs into it and shape it,” the 13-year-old said. “It’s really cool that we get to make bowls that we are actually going to be selling. They have to be really good. I am trying my hardest and I am sort of thinking this has to be perfect.”

Students in Brookley Spanbauer’s art class were in the midst of the two-week project Sept. 29, designing clay bowls with a food theme for the dinner that will benefit the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen. Located at Grace and Holy Spirit Church at 13 Court St., the non-profit soup kitchen feeds a meal six days a week, free, to anyone who wants one, no questions asked.

But Loaves and Fishes relies on the Empty Bowls annual fundraiser, this year it’s twelfth — to run its operation.

“It helps us so we know we are going to have ongoing funds,” said Kim Hill, executive director of Loaves and Fishes. “We are serving on average at least 60 a day. Toward the end of the month it’s between 80 and 90.”

The public is invited to the Empty Bowls dinner 6 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Center for the Arts of Homer, 72 S. Main St., Homer.

People can buy tickets from Hill, at 607-756-6195 or obtain them from any Loaves and Fishes board member.

Empty Bowls fundraisers across the nation draw attention to the issue of hunger, and raise money to fund pantries or soup kitchens.

Spanbauer has been part of the local initiative since its beginning in Cortland 12 years ago. She corrals schools and colleges to get students to make hand-made bowls for the effort.

“Homer Junior High will probably do close to 100 bowls,” she said. “I imagine we’ll get 300 bowls donated.”

Cincinnatus, McGraw and SUNY Cortland have committed to supplying pottery bowls and other schools may sign on in the coming weeks. Jeremiah Donovan, art professor at the college, helped initiate the program in Cortland with the help of Spanbauer and Michele Piotti, his art students at the time. He contributes a huge number of bowls, along with his students, annually. Professional artists like Russel Spillman also donate bowls that become high end silent auction items at the event.

Spanbauer’s goal for the kids was simple: “Make a bowl with love — knowing they are helping the community out. And be aware of world hunger.”

Josh Hartford, 13, was creating a bowl with an octopus theme.

“I think it’s nice to make bowls so we are raising money,” he said. And yes, he has eaten octopus, sort of: he’s had calamari at BRIX, he told his table mates.

Marin Sharer, 13, was creating a bowl in the shape of a papaya. She will shape it like the fruit and give it texture like a papaya.

“My fruit is a dragon fruit,” said Ashley Toolan, 14. “It has little spikes on it. It’s pink. Spikes turn into light green,” she said. “It’s good. It’s originally from Japan.”

She is really loving her dragon fruit bowl. While she’s getting attached to it, it’s good for Loave and Fishes, Toolan said. “It’s good for them so they get something to eat.”

Loaves is funded primarily by individuals and businesses in the community, said Sean Mack, president of its board of directors. “We do get some money from the CNY Food Bank. It’s about 10 percent government funded,” he said.

And they do fundraisers like Empty Bowls.

“This is our largest fundraiser of the year,” Mack said.

What’s special about it is how it brings together residents, schools and business owners, he said.

People who attend the benefit choose a bowl they pay for and sit down to a simple bread, salad and soup meal. They get a dessert, too. They eat their soup out of their bowl. So filling the bowl feeds the hungry. The food is simple, to illustrate the simple foods fed to hungry. All foods are donated by restaurants and cooks and are delicious. All work done is voluntary.

Mack said Loaves and Fishes is always trying new fundraisers. Some work, some don’t.

He was skeptical when Hill came back from Ithaca, where she saw the idea done there, and wanted to stage one here. But when he saw photos of children making the bowls in that very first Cortland Standard news article on the dinner, he was touched. He knew it was going to be a go.

“It’s just a wonderful thing. It involves the whole community. Everyone can help,” Mack said.

This story appeared in the October 6, 2017 edition of the Cortland Standard. To become a subscriber call us at (607) 756-5665. Back issues available by request.