Fighting hunger one empty bowl at a time

Empty Bowls at Marshall University has been using art as a way to give back to the community for 12 years.

This year was no exception. The Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington will provide approximately 100,000 families food with the money raised during this year’s event.

During Empty Bowls Friday, participants chose a bowl handcreated by ceramics students at Marshall and then stood in line and waited to be served.

Beth Caruthers, special projects coordinator for the College of Arts and Media, said this is to simulate the atmosphere of a soup kitchen.

“It is a single file line,” Caruthers said. “It is a sensible portion of soup and a piece of bread and a drink… You know that the portions are small, and that is the idea. The bowl that you purchased, the money you put into this, this is what it’s going to be doing. It’s a big step, but it’s a little step in the grand scheme of things.”

Approximately 700 bowls were sold last year, Caruthers said. This year, around 1,000 bowls were sold. 

Last year, over one million meals were distributed through the Facing Hunger Foodbank.

Cynthia Kirkhart, executive director of Facing Hunger Foodbank, said the community received more than a bowl to take home when they came to Empty Bowls.

“The greater community gets a piece of art that is representative of that meal that they have once they purchase a bowl of soups and bread and a drink of what hungry people face every day, not a lot to eat,” Kirkhart said.

Caruthers said Empty Bowls helps bring people together for a good cause.

“But what I think is unique in Huntington is that it’s just a large community of people who come together selflessly for one cause and that’s to feed hungry,” Caruthers said.

Fredrick Bartolovic, ceramics professor at Marshall, said the national event, celebrating its 25th anniversary, was started in a high school, and has expanded throughout the country over the years.

Earline Allen, former ceramics professor at Marshall, started the local Empty Bowls.

When Bartolovic became involved with Marshall’s Empty Bowls, he wanted to teach his students more than just creating art, but also becoming involved with the community. 

“Three years ago,” Bartolovic said, “I just had the idea to turn the throwing class, the pottery class, into a service learning class. I wanted to try to brainstorm a way where we could make a more direct link between the students in the ceramics area and the community at large and for students to be able to see the impact of what they do here in the studio, and the impact it can make, but also to give them a more direct experience within the community.”

Students enrolled in the ceramics class did more than make bowls, Bartolovic said. They not only worked the event, but were also required to volunteer with the Facing Hunger Foodbank in some way.

“So often within academia we’re so isolated in this situation where we don’t get to see how the things that we do have a direct impact,” Bartolovic said. “So I think that’s the thing students get to do is to see how their endeavors affect the community at large.”

Kaitlin Blatt, ceramics student at Marshall, created bowls for the event. She said participating in Empty Bowls was a humbling experience.

“To be able to help feed people in need, it’s just a very powerful thing and it humbles you and makes you realize what you and what you can actually do for others,” Blatt said.

Caruthers said other organizations contributed to Empty Bowls in different ways. B’nai Sholom congregation organized the silent auction portion of the event.

Caruthers also said local restaurants donated the soup that was served.

“It’s community members, volunteers,” Caruthers said. “I mean, it has come to the point we have more volunteers than we can use. That’s how interested everyone is in being a part of this. As far as people contributing to this event, it really comes down to people who walk through the door and buy a bowl.”

Diana Van Horn, director of Christian Associates, said Christian Associates is one of the food pantries benefitting from Empty Bowls.

The organization provided volunteers the day of the event who served the lunch included with the purchase of a bowl. 

Kirkhart said 95 cents from every dollar raised through Empty Bowls is used to purchase food through the foodbank, and distributed throughout 17 counties in the area.

A portion of the money raised is used to provide food for children to eat on the weekends while not attending school.

The Facing Hunger Foodbank serves 17 counties in the area. Kirkhart said she hopes to expand the areas the food bank serves.

“We look further into feeding all of West Virginians as opposed to what is limited by the service delivery lines,” Kirkhart said. 

Kirkhart said Empty Bowls was a community effort for everyone involved.
“The public gets to see the real impact of a little money going a long way,” Kirkhart said. “So that makes what might be a small donation more powerful… So everyone gets to really make a big imprint on many peoples lives by this event. We are all in this connected. The money that paid for the bowl, the person that created the bowl, the volunteers who give us their time, it makes that event successful and then we’re really collectively providing a quilt of comfort and need to our greater community.”

Mikaela Keener can be contacted at [email protected].