Milwaukee Empty Bowls serves up art, soup and aid to the community
For the fifth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Concordia University. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2011."
With all of the great dining options Milwaukee has to offer, it's hard to imagine there are people going hungry every day in the same city. In reality, the numbers are staggering, and even more so in today's shaky economy.
Those in poverty are not without hope, however. While there are still people in Milwaukee living without proper resources, many local aid organizations also call the city home.
One of these is Milwaukee Empty Bowls, a local non-profit dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the issue of hunger in the Milwaukee community. Their annual event brings in thousands of dollars for local food pantries and meal programs.
"It's amazing. Last year was a record year for us; we raised $45,000 in that one event in three and a half hours," said Milwaukee Empty Bowls board member Nancy Quinn. "We just catapulted way ahead, which is really incredible and important because we have heard from our recipients this year that the need is greater than ever."
Hoping to surpass last year's numbers, Milwaukee Empty Bowls 2011 has recruited more than 50 local restaurants to dish up 250 gallons of soup at MATC's Oak Creek campus this Saturday, Oct. 8. The focal point of the day's event, though, will be the bowls.
"We'll have over 2,000 bowls the day of the event, and they're all donated," said Quinn. "There's so many different sources. First of all, our professional potters, who donate their work that they would normally sell. We also have Murray Hill, which is a pottery place on the East Side. They save their recycled clay all year round, and then on the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend we have what we call a Bowl-a-thon, and professional potters gather at Murray Hill and make bowls all day long. We also have high schools and middle schools donate bowls, and there's places like Art Trooper that offer a girls' night out and other events to make bowls that they then donate to us as well."
This year's event is the 13th annual Milwaukee Empty Bowls fundraiser. Started in 1999, the event was first organized in Milwaukee by two former employees of Shully's Catering.
"They had gone to an Empty Bowls event in Madison and thought that they should start that here," said Quinn. "The whole idea was started in a Michigan high school in 1991. It sort of built up from there and now they have it all over the nation."
Because of the record turnout at last year's event, Milwaukee Empty Bowls has modified their layout to help keep lines moving and serve more people. The Grab Bag Express, the event's express line, will also return to make it easy for time-constrained attendees to get their goodies.
"It's an option for people that don't have time to wait or don't want to wait," said Quinn. "We pick out a good selection of some of the same bowls that go out for people to choose their own and we put them into bags, and then people get to go ahead of the line and make their selection, but they don't get to look at the bowls.
"We have a great response to that," she added. "I think a lot of people think it's fun to just see what they get."
Attendees will have to opportunity to pick out bowls for a $20 donation per bowl or Grab Bag – or just $10 for one of the children's bowls – and enjoy soup from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Proceeds from the 2011 event will benefit seven local help centers.
Bowls (and soup, of course) will be replenished throughout the event, so latecomers won't have to worry about missing out on the cream of the crop. Everyone will also have a chance to meet with representatives from the fundraiser's recipients.
"Every organization has a table at the event, so they'll all be there talking about what they do and how people can help them," said Quinn. "As you wait in line, you'll be able to meet the different recipient organizations, and we will have a potter making pots as a part of the event, so you'll also be able to see that as well."
By bringing together the artists, recipients and general public, Quinn and Milwaukee Empty Bowls hope to not only put on a successful fundraiser, but also help educate the public and remind them that someone's bowl is always empty.
"Just from listening to our recipients, they were very thankful and very passionate about what this donation means to them," said Quinn. "In fact, one of the recipients talked about how the change has happened because families aren't able to keep food in their refrigerators like they used to. We hope that we're having a good impact, but the need is greater all the time."
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