This is the 25th year of the Upper Valley Empty Bowls event which supports the Upper Valley MEND’s Community Cupboard food bank and also funds grants for local artists working with students in the Cascade School District.

Because of the pandemic, the volunteers who are putting on the event have had to make some significant changes, and it will be difficult to raise the $15,000 that Empty Bowls typically generates. The event raises half of the annual food budget for the food bank. But they’ve certainly been pulling out all of the stops to stay true to the spirit of the effort, which celebrates the community, the arts and local giving.

I had a chance to chat with Empty Bowls volunteer Diane Priebe and Community Cupboard manager Bob Mark recently and came away impressed with how the event is being adapted to a virtual format.

Empty Bowls logo

The event has been a tremendous community builder because of the way it is structured. In a typical year, community members will buy a bowl for $15 and paint it at a community event. The bowls are fired by local artists and then there is a community soup event at which people pick up their bowls and celebrate.

Rufus Woods

Rufus Woods

Publisher emeritus

Upwards of 500 people would participate in the soup supper which served the dual purpose of bringing people together to do good and served as a reminder that there are lots of people in poverty who are suffering because of food insecurity.

They’ve adapted by encouraging community members to sponsor bowls for $250 and they reached out to local schools and developed an essay contest and a coloring contest in which students decorate a virtual bowl.

Since it is logistically overwhelming to fire 500-plus bowls, they came up with the novel solution of having drawings for 25 bowl kits with everything an individual needs to decorate a bowl. Those bowls will be fired by local artists and kept as keepsakes.

One aspect of the event that hasn’t changed is the online auction for bowls that have been painted by local artists. People can view the online auction bowls as well as the coloring and essay contest entries at uvemptybowls.org. The auction takes place March 14-24.

The pandemic has prompted the Community Cupboard to make some changes in the way it operates, Mark said. It shifted from an open-shopping model to curbside delivery and pickup. One great innovation was the donation of a refrigerator outside the food bank that allows people to visit on their own time schedule and pick up perishables from the grocery rescue program that is supported by local stores.

People who are struggling, particularly those who haven’t struggled in the past, can find it emotionally daunting to go to a food bank. The food bank is serving 600 individuals every month, which is a huge statement about the level of poverty in our communities.

We have enormous challenges in our communities with poverty and it is heartening to see those of us with enough doing what we can to help those in need. They call the event Empty Bowls but perhaps Empathy Bowls might be a better description.

There are other anti-hunger Empty Bowls efforts happening around the region, including one put on by the Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council, which is partnering with Inspirations Ceramic and Art Cafe. Individuals can reserve your in-person painting reservation each Sunday through March 14 on their Facebook site: facebook.com/InspirationsCeramic/events.

These efforts are worthy of our support.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com or 509-665-1162.