Community comes together in Empty Bowls charity event

Jake Dressman

Bowling Green residents ate a soup dinner and picked out a unique, handcrafted pottery bowl at the Empty Bowls charity fundraiser Tuesday night.

Empty Bowls, with tickets costing $15, covered the meal and one of the bowls, but guests were encouraged to donate more. All the proceeds will benefit local charities Lifecare Ministries and Hotel Inc.

This was the seventh annual Empty Bowls event in Bowling Green. It all started with Garry Taylor, a Bowling Green native who moved around before settling in New Hampshire. Taylor heard about Empty Bowls through his passion for pottery.

Taylor said Empty Bowls is more of an idea than an organization. The idea originally began with a Michigan art teacher who wanted to teach his students that they could make a difference in the lives of others. They made bowls and served soup at the first fundraising dinner. The guests were able to bring the bowl back home as a reminder there were hungry people around them in need.

Taylor brought this idea back to Bowling Green and introduced it to his pastor, Rev. Chris Patterson at St. James United Methodist Church.

Taylor said Patterson was all for it, and they held their first empty bowls fundraiser in 2013.

“We had about 250 bowls the first year, and we sold out in about 30 minutes,” Patterson said. “And from there, we’ve outgrown two facilities now. A single idea has blossomed into something fantastic.”

Taylor said this year they had around 1100 bowls, all handmade by volunteers from the community. South Warren High School, four middle schools, and 152 participants at the Warren County Public Library all pitched in, along with other contributors.

Last year, WKU ceramics classes donated 60 bowls.

South Warren High School students also contributed by making tokens for the “100 club,” with the goal that 100 people will donate at least $50.

Several celebrity bowls were auctioned off towards the end of the event to raise extra money. Big Red and Director of Athletics Todd Stewart were two of the celebrity bowls auctioned.

Patterson said the goal was to make $25,000 at this event. Over the previous six years, Empty Bowls has raised over $120,000.

“My vision is that by the 10th anniversary, I hope that Empty Bowls will be standing on its own,” Patterson said. “St. James is glad to participate and offer some organization … but we would really love to see this truly become a community collaboration better than it is right now.”

He also said he hopes Empty Bowls can become a 501(c)3, which is a nonprofit, tax‐exempt organization.

Hotel Inc. will be using the proceeds from the event to purchase fresh and healthy food options to their clients. They have a food pantry set up like a grocery store where families can shop for their own food needs, but they do more than just provide food.

“We are able to provide people with options for affordable housing, help get people off the street, give them healthy food options,” Street Medicine Coordinator for Hotel Inc. Melissa Cowles, said. “We are the only food pantry in the area that does offer these kind of options.”

She said she leads the team of nurses and doctors that help people experiencing homelessness with their medical needs.

“Last year we were able to distribute 21,000 pounds of fresh food to the community, so [Empty Bowls] definitely makes a huge impact on our ability to do that,” Cowles said.

WKU alumnus and Warren County attorney Amy Milliken has been attending Empty Bowls since the beginning.

She said she is a big supporter of Hotel Inc., because they try to help the entire person, not just provide food.

“They don’t provide a handout, but a hand up,” Milliken said.

The other nonprofit, Lifecare Ministries, is a food bank that works with Feeding America out of Elizabethtown.

Bob Ruby, a Vietnam veteran and coordinator for Lifecare Ministries, said he wanted to do something to help his fellow man when he got back to the U.S.

“We wanted to help people that were hurting,” Ruby said. “We’re just grateful that we have the resources, and people like Empty Bowls to go out on a limb and do what they’re doing tonight.”

News reporter Jake Dressman can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]