Empty bowls fill local stomachs, help remember worldwide hunger

Written by Lewis Caskey

You may not have heard about it, but the Empty Bowl Project is something that has affected millions all over the world.  For the past nine years, it has been affecting people in the Goshen community as well.

The Empty Bowl Project began locally by the Goshen Clay Artist Guild. Participants pay $15 dollars, then pick out a bowl, fill it with soup, get bread and a drink and eat their meal to the sounds of live bands.

Each bowl is a one-of-a-kind piece of art, handcrafted by the Goshen Clay Artists Guild.  The food and drinks are donated by local restaurants, including Kelli Jae’s, The Electric Brew, South Side Soda Shop and Rachel’s Bread.  After the meal, people are invited to keep the bowl they chose, as a reminder that there are many around the world and in our own communities who have empty bowls each night.

The money raised by the Empty Bowl Project is donated to Goshen’s Interfaith Hospitality Network (GIHN).  GIHN is a program that works towards providing food and shelter to homeless families in the Goshen community.

They also have a daycare center available during the workday, where childcare is provided so adults can spend their time working or looking for jobs.

In the evening, they provide transportation for those in the program to one of the partner churches.  These partner churches rotate the responsibility of providing shelter for the night, as well as a warm meal.

The money raised by the Empty Bowl Project is “huge for us,” said GIHN’s director Tim Thorne.  “For small nonprofits like us, the months of January to April are hard.  We don’t have a lot of donations coming in during that time.”

This makes the money raised at the Empty Bowl Project “the difference between having the board make really hard decisions and survival,” said Thorne. He is very grateful for the project, saying that it’s “a wonderful experience for us, to be a part of this community event.”

The group responsible for running the event, the Goshen Clay Artists Guild, sees this as an important mission in the community.

Guild member Eric Good Kaufmann says he finds the relationship between GIHN and the guild “very moving,” going on to say that the community support is extremely impressive.

Last year there was a great turnout despite the economic downturn.

“We raised just under $12,000 for GIHN last year,” says Kaufmann, which according to Thorne is enough to pay for a little over two months.

The goal of the guild is to have each potter contribute about 24 bowls each, which served 800 people last year.

“It the biggest turnout we’ve had yet,” said Kaufmann

Formed in 1998, the Goshen Clay Artists Guild is a group of local artists who wanted to join together to share ideas, resources and a studio.  In 2004, they had their own building constructed next to the Goshen Farmers’ Market, the location for the Empty Bowl event.

In addition to sponsoring the Empty Bowl Project each year, the Guild offers classes to the public and holds semi-annual shows and sales.

“We’ve received very positive feedback from the community over the years,” said Kaufmann.  “The only complaint we ever get is that the lines are too long.”

There are worse problems to have, and Kaufmann, an art teacher at local Bethany Christian High School, points this out as a good teaching moment.

“I feel that the ordeal of waiting in line for food like this is a good reminder that many people around the world have to wait in lines to get food every day,” said Kaufmann.

The Empty Bowl Project is not unique to Goshen; it is a grassroots movement happening all over the world, with projects occurring in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Finland and Hong Kong. But while the idea may be global, the event is always local, sponsored by a school or group of artists.

The nonprofit organization Imagine Render Group, which the Goshen chapter is registered with, helps spread the word and information for the Empty Bowl Project all around the globe.

The Imagine Render Group and the Empty Bowl Project began as an event at a single high school in Detroit, Michigan.  The movement began when the high school’s art teacher, John Hartom, made a proposition to his class.

In the fall of 1990, he asked them if they would be up for making 120 bowls to use for a meal; enough bowls for the entire staff of the high school.  With a resounding “yes” the project was underway.

At the dinner, the event was treated much the same as it still is: staff members came and chose a bowl from a table, filled it up with soup, and made a small donation.  However, it came as a surprise to the staff when, after the meal, they were asked to keep their bowls “as a reminder of the food crisis around the world.”

Hartom’s wife Lisa Blackburn then gave a short speech about world hunger, and what each person could do to help fight against it.  Blackburn said that the event was so moving, they decided to keep it going by starting a nonprofit organization to spread the word.

The 9th annual Empty Bowl Project will be held on Sat. Feb 27 at 5 p.m. at the Goshen Clay Artist Guild located at 212 W. Washington St.

Written by Brett Bridges

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