Empty Bowls

An event that benefits an ongoing effort to combat hunger in the Auburn area is making its way back for another round. 

Hosted by the city of Auburn’s Dean Road Ceramics Studio and the city of Opelika’s Denson Drive Recreation Center, the 8th annual Empty Bowls event will be held March 27 at Kiesel Park from 5 to 7 p.m. 

Empty Bowls is an international grassroots effort to fight hunger that was initially created by The Imagine Render Group in 1991. The basic premise is simple: Local and regional potters, craftspeople and educators work to create hundreds of handcrafted bowls for each Empty Bowls event. 

The event, which alternates locations between Auburn and Opelika yearly, will feature a selection of hand-made ceramic bowls that were created with the mission of raising awareness for food insecurity in East Alabama. 

With the selection of a bowl, attendees will also receive a take-home soup kits donated from area restaurants. All ticket proceeds will serve as a direct donation to the Food Bank of East Alabama.

According to its website, the mission of the Food Bank of East Alabama is to alleviate hunger; to provide an efficient, coordinated system for collecting and distributing food; to reduce food waste, and to increase public awareness regarding hunger and food security issues in East Central Alabama. 

Currently, FBEA distributes 5.1 million pounds of food per year to over 200 feeding programs across East Central Alabama. Their partner agencies include emergency food pantries, shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, special residential facilities, low-income daycare providers, after school programs, and shelters for abused women. FBEA also sponsors the Mobile Food Pantry program, Backpack Program and Lee County Brown Bag Program for Seniors.

For Emillie Dombrowski, art education specialist for Auburn Parks and Recreation, the importance of an event like Empty Bowls matters more than ever during a time where the community relies on each other for basic needs. 

“When the pandemic hit, we immediately saw people in our community rushing to the food banks,” Dombrowski said. “Lines were wrapped for miles because people had lost their jobs, didn’t know where their next paycheck was coming from and needed food.”

And while food banks provided much-needed relief for many families during the hard times, Dombrowski said the reality of the situation left many food banks depleted of supplies or, in extraordinary situations, closing their doors along with many businesses as a means to survive the storm. 

“Some food banks simply had to close and evaluate the best way to serve their demographics,” Dombrowski said. “For the ones that stayed opened, resources depleted and left a huge financial burden with it.”

Dombrowski added that regardless of doubts the group originally had, hosting this year’s Empty Bowls was necessary — even if they had to make changes to accommodate local, state and national Covid regulations. 

“It’s so important for us as a community to fill the financial pit for our local food bank,” Dombrowski said. “When you looked at the numbers, you used to see one in six or one in eight people living in food insecurity.

“Now with the pandemic, that number is one in four to one in five people living food insecure. That one person is your neighbor, your coworkers or, even, your friend.”

According to Dombrowski, preparation for the event started a year earlier with the goal of making 500 bowls. The process is time consuming — from start to finish, Dombrowski says each of the 500 bowls have gone through a week to week-and-half process. 

With fewer hands on deck due to the pandemic, Dombrowski stated that pushing for 500 this year was a larger task but they are on schedule to reach their goal in the next two weeks. 

“We have had less hands because some of our artists don’t feel comfortable coming back to the studio,” Dombrowski said. “However, we have worked under Covid conditions like social distancing and wearing masks while in the studio. For the event, we will ensure that every bowl is sanitized and we are also foregoing the dinner setting just to encourage social distancing.”

Guests can also look forward to themed raffle baskets versus the traditional one-item prize raffle that has taken place in years past. 

As for Dombrowski, her message to the community is a simple one  — one that attests to the basic communal efforts that became so necessary for so many during Covid. 

“All I want for people to take away from this event is that your community needs your help,” Dombrowski said. “People need food and they need help.”

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