Empty Bowls — a joint event between the cities of Auburn and Opelika with a goal to fight hunger — will take place in Auburn this year on Feb. 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center.

The event will feature dinner, entertainment and raffle prizes, but event coordinator Cari Cleckler said Empty Bowls is about more than just the event.

"This isn't a ticket to an event; this isn't a dinner. This is you donating to the food bank. You just happen to get a 'thank you' with it," she said. 

To attend Empty Bowls, one must purchase a $20 ticket, but since that money goes to support the Food Bank of East Alabama, Cleckler said that she hopes people understand how much they are helping their community.

"Every $1 is like seven meals or something insane," she said about how the donations stretch to meet the needs of many families. "Your $20 is providing so much for so many."

Empty Bowls is an international grassroots effort to fight hunger and was started by a high school teacher in the '90s, Cleckler said. Auburn got involved in 2015, when it hosted its first event to create awareness for the movement.

Since then, it has grown into an event that locals love, Cleckler said, and restaurants volunteer to provide soup and bread for the meal. Cleckler added that some people event travel from nearby cities every year to attend.

"It's fun to see repeat people and out-of-town people getting involved," she said.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the event itself is the hundreds of handmade bowls that are up for grabs to ticketholders. Each attendee gets to select a bowl to keep the night of the event.

So far, Cleckler said more than 500 bowls have been hand-spun by locals in the Auburn and Opelika studios.

She said she would encourage those attending the event to arrive early, select their bowl, then stay to enjoy soup and music.

Music will be provided by local jazz artist Terry Rodriguez and the Electric Rangers. Mayor Ron Anders will give a welcome address and a keynote speaker will provide an educational component to the event, providing information on hunger in the community.

"It wasn’t until I got involved with Empty Bowls and talking with (food bank director) Martha Henk and Elsie Lott at Community Market that I realized people you think are fine may not always be fine," Cleckler said regarding hunger in the community. "Every year when we host in Auburn, I always try to find a different speaker who can talk on some facet of hunger because we live in a fantastic place ... but you don't realize is there are so many unfortunate people."

Raffle tickets can also be purchased during the event. Handmade items by artists and items from local businesses will be raffled off before the event is over on Feb. 23.

To purchase tickets, which are $20, to attend Empty Bowls, stop by the Dean Road Recreation Center in Auburn or the Denson Drive Recreation Center in Opelika. Only 200 tickets will be sold.

Food will be provided by Jim 'N Nick's BBQ, Panera Bread Company, Niffer's and Chappy's Deli.

If you cannot attend the event, you can purchase a handmade bowl the Monday following the event at Jan Dempsey. Proceeds will benefit the Food Bank of East Alabama.

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