BY RANDY RUDDER
The “Empty Bowl,” concept of fundraising, has been around for a few decades, according to Wilson Country Community Help Center Board member Pam Tate. “This started back about 1991. An art teacher in Michigan named John Hartom, wanted to find a way for his art students to give back to the community,” she says.
The concept began catching on at local help centers, food banks, and hunger relief organizations all over the country. A past president at the Lebanon Help Center, initiated the project here in Lebanon five years ago. Each year, the proceeds from the benefit go to help stock up the food pantry at the Help Center. benefit is to raise funds to supplement the food boxes that the Help Center provides during the holidays, and all year long. “Our donations don’t match what we need to get our food boxes up to their highest level of protein value,” says Ben Spicer, Executive Director of the Help Center. “So we end up having to buy a lot of protein cans, and canned meats and chili, and pork and beans and things like that.This event is where we get the money to buy those, so we can make our boxes a lot more balanced.”
The Empty Bowls benefit will be held this year at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Lebanon on November 1, from 11am until 2:30pm, and includes a silent auction. The event often draws over 300 people. Attendees pay $25 for the lunch ticket.
“The meal is very simple,” says Spicer. “It’s intended to be that way. It’s basically soup, bread, and a beverage, and a dessert.” All of the food that day is donated. Usually we have some sort of entertainment also. Last year, we had a bluegrass band.”
Spicer says, “Our boxes represent five days and three meals a day. That’s how many meals we can serve with our boxes. And we supplement that with fruits and vegetables. Recently, we had a bunch of head of iceberg lettuce, and we had a lot of cucumbers donated to us from local farmers, so we have been putting those in the food boxes, too.” Spicer adds, “This year’s growing season was really good for us.”
“We have a lot of support from local merchants for the benefit,” Tate says. “Last year, we had tickets to the Capitol Theatre and several stores in the square like Crystal Couture donated items. This year, Rick Wittrig owner of Fire Pit Art, has donated a large fire pit to be auctioned off in the silent auction. Cedarstone Bank, Wilson Bank, and Performance Food Group are helping support the event, too. Sometimes groups and companies get together and get a whole table for 10 to support the benefit.”
“We probably have about 15 different events going on right now where people actually make their bowls in advance,” says Spicer. “Then we bring them back to the help center, where we have a kiln, and we fire them, after they have had a chance to sit, and then we take them back to get painted and fired again. We have a lot of churches that participate in making these.”
“We have raised about $40,000 total over the past four years of the event, but this year, the demand for our food boxes is up, so we have to raise enough money to meet that demand at this event which is the only fundraiser we do for the food pantry,” Spicer says.
“Empty Bowls is a wonderful way to give back to the community, enjoy a nice lunch, take a chance on some silent auction items, and then you have that bowl to keep as a reminder that there are a lot of people out there with empty bowls.” For more information about Empty Bowls and The Help Center, visit www.helpwilsoncounty.com