Hunger and food insecurity are issues sweeping the state, and some local potters have gathered their resources to raise awareness and take steps toward a solution.
On Feb. 10, 2018, the Empty Bowls project will host their annual event at Denson Recreation Center. The event is a gathering of community members around a common cause: the awareness and alleviation of food insecurity in Lee County and surrounding areas.
The Empty Bowls presale began on Nov. 7 and will continue through Nov. 22. Each purchase made will benefit the East Alabama Food Bank, as well as give the purchaser a ticket to attend the Empty Bowls event in February. The bowls are available for purchase at Denson Center in Opelika, Mama Mocha’s in Auburn and O Town Ice Cream in Opelika.
The mission of the project is clear and the method is simple: creators of pottery gather to mold unique bowls from clay, and then they sell the bowls at local markets to the residents of Lee County.
Organizers of the Empty Bowls project want the community to know how prevalent the issues of hunger and food insecurity are, even within the area. Lee County’s food-insecurity rate is 18.3 percent, meaning that around 27,050 people in the county alone are unsure of where their next meal will come from, or if their next meal has enough nutrients to healthily sustain them.
Opelika and Auburn alternate hosting the event, but it is only a small part of a nationwide movement to help persons in the United States who are food insecure, Opelika resident and potter Kitty Greene tells The Plainsman.
At the February event, attendees will fill their bowls with hot soup and freshly baked bread, as they share in community and focus on ways to overcome the hunger problem in the state. The event will also feature live music, pottery demos and a raffle. All proceeds from the event will go to the East Alabama Food Bank.
“To me what is most amazing is that a small group of dedicated people can accomplish so much without the large overhead that goes along with national fundraising organizations,” Greene said. “We have received a few donations to help purchase clay and defray printing costs, but everything else is the result of volunteer labor.”
Sherie Spain began the project in 2014 with a dream and some clay, and it has burgeoned into something that they never imagined. This project grows every year.
In the food bank’s seven-county service area, the average food-insecurity rate is 21.2 percent. The food bank and network of partnering agencies serve an average of 30,240 people each month.
According to their website, the mission of the East Alabama Food Bank 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.”
The food bank teams up with local partners throughout the year such as Walmart, Target, Earth Fare, Kroger, Panera Bread, Winn Dixie, Sam’s Club and Publix, as well as taking part in multiple events like Beat Bama Food Drive and the Empty Bowls Project to work on solving the issue of food insecurity in the area.
Potters from both the Auburn and Opelika ceramics studios spend months crafting the bowls to be sold at the February event. They all have the same hope: that people will be reminded of those who are less fortunate than themselves when they see their unique bowl.
The Auburn and Opelika Tourism Bureau lists the bowls as “a keepsake and a reminder of those who face hunger
Nearly one in five Alabama residents, or 18.6 percent, is considered food-insecure, and one out of every four of Alabama’s children lives at or below the poverty level. One-in-every-five Alabama seniors
“I started taking pottery lessons several years ago from Sherie,” Greene said. “When Opelika hosted the event in 2016, I volunteered to help with publicity. I was ‘recruited’ to help again for the 2018 event.”
Greene is also working on a Chef’s Choice Cookbook, in which local chefs are contributing recipes.
“The book will focus on the individual chefs and will include photos [and] bios,” Greene said.
She is hoping to have the cookbook ready in the coming weeks. It will sell for $20 and all of the proceeds will go to the food bank.
For more information on the Empty Bowls Project and more like it, visit the Empty Bowls 2018 Facebook page, or contact Sherie Smith.