Urbana University will host Empty Bowls of Champaign County for the seventh year from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 1 in the Student Union. In this annual community meal local residents receive ceramic bowls for a suggested minimum donation of $15, then use the bowls to sample a variety of soups made by local restaurants. The donation will be used to alleviate hunger and help food insecure families in the county.
Second Harvest Development Director Rosemary Bradley, who is helping to coordinate the event, said she expects 350-400 guests to sample the 14 soups.
“We encourage people to come out,” she said. “You get to meet people you don’t know, it’s really a community event, and it’s great to see 300-350 people and they can come in and go as they like. At the same time it’s just a wonderful occasion to see a group of people pretty inexpensively supporting a problem we have in our community. Champaign County has over 5,000 people that face food insecurity, and with this small donation we’re able to do quite a bit. With every dollar that we receive we’re able to purchase 4-5 meals with that.
“The reason why it’s soup and bread – this sort of basic meal – is that sometimes that’s the only thing that food-insecure people have to eat all day,” she added. “So it commemorates and lets people know that hunger is a problem in the community, and this is a way that we can all band together and try to alleviate that.”
“I would say for Champaign and Logan County we’ve seen growth,” said Second Harvest Executive Director Tyra Jackson. “Every year we’re seeing new sponsors, we’re seeing new people that come. People really see it as a community event, they’ll bring their families, and they really enjoy choosing the bowls. We’re seeing more people supporting it … it becomes a way of supporting our mission, but it’s also done in a way that there’s fellowship around it.”
Second Harvest Food Bank has sponsored an Empty Bowls event in Clark County for 24 years, which will take place this year March 22, and now organizes the event in Champaign County as well as one in Logan County on April 26.
“All three of the Empty Bowls events that we do raise money separately in the three counties that we serve: Clark, Logan and Champaign counties,” said Bradley. “In Champaign County specifically, all of the money that’s raised goes back into feeding the hungry in Champaign County. We solicit sponsorships from businesses at different levels, and the levels run from $1,000 down to $100, and the sponsorships then go into helping us secure food so that all of the pantries and other agencies in Champaign County can then draw on that supply to give back to the food-insecure in Champaign County.”
According to Bradley, Empty Bowls was started by a ceramics artist at Michigan State University in the late 1980s. The instructor developed a class project on giving back to the community, then licensed the term “Empty Bowls” so that any hunger alleviating agency could use the title as long as all proceeds were used to alleviate local food insecurities.
“The whole event then becomes where we get bowls created by local ceramic artists,” Bradley said. “For Champaign County, Springfield High School donates around 200 bowls for that, we also get donations from other ceramic artists and they will throw the bowls and glaze them and everything, and then they donate them for the public when they come in to sample the soups. People give us a $15 donation for every bowl that they pick up. Then they use the bowls to sample the soups and get bread and have a simple meal.”
Second Harvest seeks bowls from multiple pottery artists around the area. Bradley said that Springfield High School provides about half of the bowls for Champaign County, and that the ceramics class at Graham Local Middle School gave them about 50 bowls last year and plans to provide the same number this year.
All together, organizers expect to have about 5o0 bowls available at the event. Those that are not given away for donations can be saved for next year’s event.
“We have people that look forward to this every year because this is where they get their ceramic bowls,” Bradley said. “We’ve had people come in and get a dozen. We also have people who come in and give us an additional donation to support us that way as well. One year someone came in and brought their own box to get about 20 bowls.”
Local restaurants providing soups this year include The Airport Cafe, Cafe Paradiso, Carmazzi’s General Store, Coppertop Restaurant, The Depot Coffee House, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Hippie and the Farmer, Rockin’ Robin, The Spotted Cow, Cosmic Charlie Bread, Aladdin and Loveless Farms.
Bradley said she does not yet have a confirmation of what soups will be available, but there is usually a variety that includes traditional favorites like chicken noodle soup as well as more exotic flavors. The Hippie and the Farmer typically provides both a vegetarian and a meat variety of the same soup.
“People usually will take samplings from their favorite soup, then they get their bowl washed and they can get a sample of something they wouldn’t normally try,” she said. “It’s sort of an endless soup line because people keep going back up and getting more.”
Any soup left at the end of the evening is donated to the Caring Kitchen.
Second Harvest provides food to 11 distribution agencies in Champaign County and has a mobile truck that visits various locations throughout the county five or six times a month.
According to Feeding America, 12.7 percent of Champaign County residents, or 5,020 individuals, are considered food-insecure. For more information, visit https://feedccl.org.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304