Community comes out to help area food banks

WILLIAMSTOWN — With an ongoing need to stock area food banks, the annual Empty Bowls Luncheon for Hunger was held Saturday for the first time at the First United Methodist Church in Williamstown.

Empty Bowls is a national concept that goes back to John Hartom, a Michigan art teacher in the early 1990s whose idea was to raise charitable funds by having a community event that gave artists and students a way to make a difference. The idea caught on nationally and has raised millions of dollars to help in the fight against hunger.

The late Caroline Putnam, of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Marietta, has been the one credited with starting the Empty Bowls Luncheon for Hunger locally. This weekend marked the 19th year for the event in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

The local Empty Bowls committee is represented by five area churches. That group includes the First Unitarian Universalist Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church, the First Congregational Church and now the First United Methodist Church in Williamstown.

The price to attend the Empty Bowls Luncheon for Hunger was $12, which included soup, bread, a beverage, cookies and a beautiful hand-made bowl to take home. In addition, the event also included a silent auction.

Twenty-eight local restaurants donated soups such as potato, lentil, broccoli cheddar, chili, chicken noodle and many more. Panera donated bread and church parishioners made tons of cookies and provided the beverages. Close to 700 bowls were created by local artisans, woodworkers, high school students and the Pottery Barn that were donated to make the luncheon a success.

The annual fundraiser usually brings in approximately $6,000 for the goal of helping to stock the shelves of local area panties on both sides of the Ohio River.

“Having it here at the First United Methodist Church in Williamstown allows us to get in twice the amount of people,” said Stassa Phillips, Empty Bowls Coordinator. “We have two lines going today to get soup and overall, the flow is so much better. They won’t have to wait in line very long.”

Phillips has volunteered for Empty Bowls since 2006.

“We are thrilled to carry out Caroline’s dream to earn as much as possible for our food pantries,” said Phillips. “Every year it has gone up. Last year we raised $6,200 and this year we want to do even better.”

Another long-time Empty Bowls volunteer is Carol Garoza.

“When I was teaching, I was involved with my students helping by making bowls,” said Garoza. “After I retired, I continued to help Caroline. It’s always very satisfying to help out the food pantries by having this luncheon.”

Committee member Judy Peoples said last year was the most successful year by serving about 500 people.

“There is always a need for food at the pantries,” stated Peoples. “The figures are staggering. Just at the Marietta Food Pantry alone, in 2018, they served 3,003 households,1,032 seniors, 4,393 adults and 2,588 children.”

The luncheon would not be possible with out the dedicated effort of many volunteers from the churches, Washington State Community College and Marietta College.

“I think it’s a great event,” said WSCC student Amanda Harvey of Belpre. “We’re having a great turnout, the bowls are beautiful and there’s some great smelling soup here today.”

“This luncheon is for a great cause and the bowls are so pretty,” said WSCC student casey Jo Higgins of Marietta. “We joined PTK (WSCC Honor Society Phi Theta Kappa). That’s how we got into volunteering for different things around the community.”

The Pottery Barn at Grand Central Mall in Vienna kicked in with 190 bowls for the luncheon this year. During the month of March, the business had a special called “Paint a bowl, give a bowl,” according to MJ Lemon, manager of the studio. If someone decorated two ceramic bowls, they kept one and the other went to the Empty Bowls event.

Kaylee Jakubowski, of Marietta, enjoyed checking out the impressive selection of bowls to choose from.

“I love these bowls. When I was in high school, I used to make bowls for this luncheon in our pottery class,” said Jakubowski. “Now, I come back each year to this and try to find a student’s bowl from my high school if possible.

“They’ve had this at several churches and it’s always packed,” said Jakubowski. “It definitely does well at bringing in a lot of funds for the pantries. It’s also a good way of bringing people together, eating great food and promoting area businesses as well.”

A trio of friends had a great time getting together for the luncheon.

“This is the best one I’ve been to, It’s fabulous,” said Sharon Gegner of Marietta. “There’s a lot of people here today because it benefits our local food banks,” said Gegner. “You also get to see people you haven’t seen in a while. It’s so positive!”

Jan Sheridan of Marietta said of course the main reason they came was to help out the wonderful cause of stocking the food banks, but added that the soups were delicious.

“The Buckley House lentil soup is truly amazing,” said Sheridan. “It’s not your typical lentil soup.”

“Lunch was amazing,” smiled Pat Bateman, another member of the trio. “I love this.”

All three agreed that everyone comes out a winner in this event, especially being able to address the hunger issue in the local area.

The Empty Bowls Luncheon for Hunger committee is always looking for new members, volunteers and donations for the fundraising event. If interested, please contact Stassa Phillips at 740-376-0666 or Empty Bowls, c/o FUUSM, 232 Third St., Marietta.