Empty Bowls Celebrates 16th Year

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Clara with a bowl (Photo courtesy of the OUR Center)

On Saturday March 16th, the Outreach United Resource (OUR) Center will host the 16th Annual Empty Bowls fundraiser at Longmont High from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Tickets to the event include soup, bread, dessert and a handmade ceramic bowl of their choosing. Proceeds from the event benefit the OUR Center’s Community Cafe and Community Market. A silent auction is also available.

Last year, 800 attendees and sponsors raised $34,000 to support the OUR Center. One hundred percent of the proceeds fund the programs, which feed the hungry. “It’s a low overhead event,” said Edwina Salazar, director of the OUR Center, “almost everything is donated.”

Empty Bowls began in 1990, when a Michigan art teacher and his class were trying to raise money for a food drive. They came up with a class project to craft ceramic bowls which then served as centerpieces in a simple fundraising meal of soup and bread. Guests were invited to keep the bowls as a reminder of worldwide hunger. The idea was a hit and by the following year, Empty Bowls had taken off, spawning events across the country and worldwide.

Empty Bowls came to Longmont in 2004, when two OUR Center volunteers, unbeknownst to each other, pitched the idea to staff. It has since become the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser, with over $400,000 raised since 2004.

Elaine Klotz, development director of the OUR Center, says she feels the biggest challenge of Empty Bowls is obtaining sponsorships. “We really have not been able to grow our revenue to the level that we need to be able to grow it,” she said. “We are always trying to figure out how to encourage people to support this through a sponsorship.” She added that sponsors don’t have to be a business, and could be “a church, a service club, or an individual.”

Salazar agrees with Klotz, and adds that most of the challenges of staging the fundraiser are “good ones. It’s growing,” she said, “and our venue can only hold so many people. Getting people in and out of the building is a challenge, so many people attend and want to attend.”

The art studio Crackpots, at 505 Main St. in Longmont, provides most of the bowls for the meal, although area high schools also help. Patrons can paint an official ‘Empty Bowl’ at Crackpots for a flat fee of $15. Last year a record 966 bowls were created at Crackpots.

Empty Bowls (Photo courtesy of the OUR Center)

Salazar laughed at the memory of two occasions in the past when a person who had made a bowl got very attached to it and was desperate and determined to get that bowl back on the day of the event. Against all odds, she said, explaining that the bowls are set out in shifts and get replenished as space opens up, both of these individuals left with the bowl they’d made. “Little miracles happen,” she said.

The silent auction, staged in the hallway next to the food court, features around 80 items ranging from gift certificates from downtown merchants, quilts, art and a signed photo of Denver Bronco Emmanuel Sanders. Each auction item is accompanied by one of the bowls, selected to fit its theme. There will also be a selection of the most artistic bowls, ‘Incredi-Bowls,’ available for $20 each.

Salazar loves Empty Bowls. “It’s an intergenerational event,” she said. “People can bring the entire family, and anyone can attend. If you sit with somebody you don’t know, they always end up having wonderful conversations, meeting new people. Everything about it is very special.”

Tickets and sponsorships to the event can be purchased on the OUR Center website at www.ourcenter.org/emptybowls/. Advance tickets are $20, or are available for $25 at the door. Additionally, leftover bowls are sold, starting at 1:00 p.m., for $5/each, and any leftover soup will be $5/qt. near the auction area.

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