Despite the dreary weather outside, the Opelika Denson Center was filled with smiling faces Saturday as community members excitedly browsed among hundreds of locally handcrafted bowls.
Tables inside were lined with community members smiling at one another and chatting about the weather, their weekends and local poverty alleviation.
The Empty Bowls Project is an annual event put on by the Auburn and Opelika Parks and Recreation departments to benefit the East Alabama Food Bank. It began five years ago as a project to both bring awareness and make a difference for local food insecurity.
Guests paid $10 for a ticket, which guaranteed them a place at the table, fresh nutritious soup, warm baked bread and their choice of one of the hand-thrown bowls.
Cindy Harris, an Opelika native, was playing music at Saturday’s event. She has attended the event all five years and spoke of how great her appreciation was for such a community-driven endeavor.
“It’s encouraging to know that people are coming out for the cause,” she said.
Kitty Greene, one of the event’s organizers, said that they were a little worried about the turnout because of the weather, but even
Greene said that the presale alone raised more than $8,000 for the Food Bank.
More than 30 potters contributed to the event, some making hundreds of bowls each. Matthew Battles, the municipal area supervisor for the Parks and Recreation Department, said that this event was a great success each year.
“I’m not a potter – I am in the background,” he said. “It’s just a big collaboration between everybody, and it takes a lot of hands."
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According to him, the pottery department’s director, Sherie Spain, could throw more than a 100 in 20 minutes or so, a proficiency matched by few.
Battles said that all of the clay is provided by the potters, and some businesses come in and donate money for the purchase of more clay to make even more bowls. All proceeds go to the Food Bank of East Alabama.
She had several bowls of her own for sale at the event, as well as some in the raffle. She laughed when she told The Plainsman that her daughter had actually picked up the last of her bowls in the regular sale.
The Empty Bowls Event is made possible each year by a number of volunteers and donors. Sponsors included Panera Bread, Niffers, Jim Bob’s and Chick-fil-A, among many others.
They had more than 1,100 bowls when they counted a week ago, Talbots said. Battles said he thought they had at least 2,000 bowls over the course of both the presale and today’s event.
The Denson Center studios are open to the community, providing an open membership to any who wish to join. The department only requires that members have a small bit of previous experience or the completion of a few classes. The City of Opelika offers clay shaping and pottery-making classes all year long through the Parks and Recreation
Sherie Spain, the head
The Denson Center boasts eight kilns for members to use, and they regularly host pottery teachers from around the region to teach classes in the community.
The event alternates hosts each year. This was the third year at the Denson Center – the event has been held twice at the Jan Dempsey Community Center in Auburn and will return there in 2019.
Some of the potters have their work featured in presidents’ homes, as well as other famous places throughout the United States.
Kathy Nist, a native of California, moved to Lee
“I am so happy here,” she said.
Jeff Tickle, an attorney with the city, throws bowls at his house and then brings them up to the Denson center.
Auburn brought 130 bowls one afternoon.
“The members deserve a ton of the credit,” Talbots said. “It took a village.”
The team began with 1,000 raffle tickets and printed 400 more halfway through the day.
Greene said that this year was the biggest event they have had with the most surprising turnout.
When all the profits are counted, the Parks and Recreation Department will present a check to Martha Henk, supervisor of the East Alabama Food Bank, at the Opelika City Council meeting. That exchange will occur in the first week of March.