By TINA ANDERSON
Times have certainly gotten harder locally with the downturn of the economy and recent flooding. During these times it is all too easy to focus on our own situation, what we’ve had to cut back on or give up, without thinking of those who are suffering even more. Were you able to send everyone off for the day with full stomachs this morning? Are you already trying to decide what or where to eat tonight? For most of us the thought of hunger comes during a strict diet or on a busy day with no time to swing through a drive-thru. When our thoughts do turn to people without food, we picture the child with sad eyes on a dirt road in a distant poor country. Unfortunately, many people right here in Wilson County have empty bowls at breakfast and wonder IF they will eat tonight.
According to the Hunger Study 2010 by Feeding America: 13.5 % of Tennesseans are food-insecure. This means they run out of food without money to buy more, cut portion sizes or skip meals, and/or they do not feed children in the family because there isn’t money for food. We are talking about 1,218,118 of Tennessee’s children (19.6% of our population under the age of 18) may or may not eat every day, much less at every meal.
In the Wilson County and Lebanon Special School districts, qualifying children of school age are provided free breakfast and lunch at school. But there are many days that school is not in session. During the three-two week breaks, many of us enjoy a quick trip or extra activities. During these times we are not worrying about our ability to feed our children. However, if our family relied on those free daily school meals to feed our children, I know my thoughts would be consumed with the worry of how to provide for them. Sadly, this need is not new to our community.
It was out of this need that the effort to help grew. The original Help Center was a coalition of churches that collected and stored donated items to provide for people in need. Then, with a community grant, fundraisers, and help from United Way, the Help Center was able to open an independent location run by Dot Maxey. Their main focus was providing essentials such as food, clothing vouchers, and furniture. In the 1990’s, as the quantity and types of donations grew, the Help Center opened a thrift area to help raise money for the community through sales of donated items. The Help Center also lives up to its name by coordinating with other agencies to provide clients with services they are not able to provide.
Though the Help Center tries to meet other needs besides hunger, providing food is their top priority. As Janet Ramono states, “We’re about everyday people who need food.” The Center provides about 400 food boxes per month or approximately 11,000 meals. The need to restock the shelves is never ending. Regrettably the harder economic times have increased the number of clients, but decreased the number of donations. One of the biggest impacts on donations has been the relocation of businesses, which in the past, held food drives to help fi ll the pantry shelves. Another problem is that many are simply not aware of the need to be met which lasts throughout the year. Awareness always rises around the holidays, but the need does not stop once the holidays pass. Just over a year ago, the Help Center Board decided to host an Empty Bowl Project to bring attention to the year-round need.
Through this project, the Wilson County Help Center, Second Harvest Food Bank and United Way are not only trying to raise awareness, but also money to help fill the pantry shelves. Other sponsors of the project include Miller Tanner Associates, Cliff Carey General Contractor, Rock TENN, Cedar Stone Bank, Rochelle, McCullough & Aulds, and Wilson Bank & Trust.
The Empty Bowl Project began 20 years ago in Michigan when an art class wanted a creative way to support their local food drive. With their art teacher’s help, the class made ceramic bowls to serve a simple meal of soup and bread. The participants of the dinner then took their bowl home as a reminder that someone’s bowl is always empty. The organizers then developed the idea into the Empty Bowl Project and established the Imagine/ RENDER Group. Since the group’s inception, many events have been held throughout the country and even worldwide.
To make the first local Annual Empty Bowls Luncheon possible, it was time to get to work and make all the bowls used to serve the simple meal of soup and bread. Janet Ramano, Vice-president of the Help Center, organized several free bowl-making events throughout the summer. She states that the Tennessee Arts and Crafts Association really helped make this happen. Businesses, organizations, scouting troops, families and individuals only needed to give a little time and creativity to make a bowl. With a fairly simple process and plenty of knowledgeable volunteers, the events were smooth and productive with more than 600 bowls produced at over seven events.
The event our family attended was fabulous. What can be better than to do something together with your family that, in turn, will help others? We all enjoyed learning how to make a bowl, and it gave us the opportunity to discuss the reasons for the event with our kids. The room was constantly abuzz with each table filled with bowl-makers of every age and creativity level. There were children in parent’s laps, tables of teenagers, groups of adults and also a pottery artist throwing pots on a potter’s wheel. The array of bowl types produced was very impressive. That day’s event produced 315 bowls by the 160-plus attendees.
Turning the cubes of clay into beautiful bowls was only the beginning. Lee Marshall, owner of Silver Ridge Pottery, donated her time and kiln to help fire the pieces which were then painted and glazed by more community volunteers. The bowls were then fired a final time by a committee of Marshall, Forrest and Robin McDonald at one of the Lebanon Special School District schools and now wait to be filled with soup and taken to their new home.
The Luncheon will take place at First United Methodist Church, Saturday, November 6th from 11:00-2:00 and will include a silent auction. Geni Batchelor has worked hard to organize the luncheon bringing together many community businesses including: Wildberry Catering, Five Oakes CC and Castle Heights Chop House providing soup and Bays’ Bakery providing bread.
Those attending the luncheon will take home the bowl their meal is served in. The wonderful uniqueness of each handcrafted bowl will hopefully serve as a reminder not only that there are those in our community with an empty bowl at their table, but also that those same individuals are wonderful and unique in their own way as well.
First Annual Empty Bowls Luncheon
First United Methodist Church
415 West Main Street, Lebanon
Saturday, November 6, 2010 – 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Ticket- $15.00 in advance or at the door