Empty Bowls fundraiser draws attention to growing demand for food support

Ann Ward unloads a kiln full of bowls for the upcoming fundraiser/photo by Joan Farnam
Ann Ward unloads a kiln full of bowls for the upcoming fundraiser/photo by Joan Farnam

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Empty Bowls, an international event to raise money to fight hunger while promoting art and community action, takes place at the First Congregation Church in Grand Marais this coming Thursday. Artists, community members, and students at every school in the county came together to make bowls and to help support our local food shelf.

On the Monday before the annual Empty Bowls event in Grand Marais down to the wire preparations are underway at the Art Colony. With just a few days to go, volunteers work tirelessly to get things done. Ann Ward is a potter and volunteer for the event she says the last week has been full of back to back kiln firings and community glazing workshops, “It’s been a lot of pretty busy days and nights,” says Ward.

Ward has personally thrown more than 100 bowls for the event. In addition to her own work, she’s helped many other folks in the community with making their own creations for the fundraiser.

Shining a light on hunger in our community is more important than ever. The number of folks seeking help has skyrocketed in the last year. Jan Parish works for the county’s Health and Human Services Department and had been taking a close look at the numbers of people seeking food support. She says, “We’ve seen a great increase in our case load. We’ve started tracking the caseloads from 2006 through 2010 on a chart and the numbers that we see in 2010 are at least double the 2006 and 2007 numbers.”

To be exact, the county has seen an increase of 130 percent in the last year. Overall the state of Minnesota has seen a greater demand for food support since the onset of the economic downturn, but the local growth in need surpasses the state-wide growth by percentage. “State-wide,” says Parish, “the increase for September, comparing that to 2005, is 86 percent. So actually Cook County has seen a little higher increase in the food support need than state-wide.”

The increase in demand for assistance doesn’t stop at the county’s Health and Human Services Department. It’s the same story at the local food shelf. Amy Demmer is the director of the Art Colony in Grand Marais, which right now could be well described as Empty Bowls central. Most of what needs to get done to pull the event off locally happens right at the Art Colony. Demmer says she and other folks on the Empty Bowls committee gathered data on the need in our community. “What we found,” says Demmer, “is that last year we were saying that 75 families in our community use the food shelf from month to month and that had increased from 50 families the year before. Now it’s 100 kids and 160 adults that are using the food shelf every month.”

Demmer is fired up about this year’s event and that’s not just because her office sits right above the Art Colony’s kiln. “We have people in our community that are hungry,” says Demmer, “and it’s not this abstract thing of you know people hungry in Africa—there’s people hungry here in Cook County. You know 10 percent of the people in our county, over 500 people, use some sort of food support program every month…and that doesn’t even address those that remain silent in their need.”

Demmer says she hopes the event helps address the silence and stigma surrounding the issue of hunger. “One of the really interesting facts we found out is that for every $5 in food support it generates $9.20 in economic activity for our community,” says Demmer. “That’s a really powerful figure that says when people spend that it creates economic activity in our community and that says that this is a really good thing for our community,” Demmer concludes.

Empty Bowls is this Thursday, Nov. 11. This year, there will be both a lunch seating from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a dinner seating from 5 to 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Grand Marais. Between then and now you can bet the kiln at the Art Colony will be going non-stop. But for Grand Marais Potter and event volunteer Joan Farnam, the big pay off comes when the public gets a look at all the hand-crafted pots, “Well I’ll tell you what,” says Farnam, “for me personally there’s nothing like seeing a table full of bowls that the community has made, that are beautiful, and are donated to help other people. I love it!”

A bowl of soup costs $10, but you keep the bowl and the money raised goes to the Cook County Food Shelf.


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