Empty Bowls of Champaign County will serve its 8th annual dinner at the Urbana University Student Center on Feb. 28 from 5 to 7 p.m. The event is a fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank of Champaign, Clark and Logan counties and offers each patron a hand-crafted ceramic bowl and a simple meal of soup and bread for $15 per bowl.
“It’s a very simple meal, but it also goes to show how a simple meal can provide so much,” said Tyra Jackson, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank. “We keep it very basic. It’s not an extravagant thing because a lot of times it’s all that people can have, but at the same time it’s very filling and provides the nutrients and food that people need.”
Second Harvest Food Bank collects, stores and distributes over 500,000 pounds of food annually to 68 member agencies, including nine food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Champaign County. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Clark County Empty Bowls fundraiser, which will take place at Wittenberg University on March 14. A Logan County Empty Bowls fundraiser will take place May 2.
According to Jackson, Second Harvest relies heavily on Empty Bowls fundraisers to bring additional funds into the community. Every dollar that the organization raises in this way is able to provide five meals for the food-insecure.
“The great thing about this event is it’s really the community coming together to support this,” she said. “It’s very low on administrative costs. We purchase the clay and the glaze for the pots, but the students do all of that work and they’re wonderful bowls. Several groups with their talents and their skill sets are coming together to make this evening happen, and it’s all to benefit Second Harvest Food bank in helping us to feed those who are food insecure.”
Student-made bowls, original soups
Springfield High School will make about 200 bowls, Graham High School will make about 50, and others are donated by local potters. Local restaurants provide the soup and bread, which this year will include Aladdin, Farmer’s Daughter, Airport Cafe, Urbana University, Cafe Paradiso, Carmazzi’s, Coppertop, Depot Coffeehouse, The Hippie and the Farmer, Loveless Farms, Spotted Cow, and Mumford’s Deli. Jackson’s goal is to have 15 soups available at the event.
“We usually get a pretty good variety of soups,” she said. “There was a cheeseburger soup that the Spotted Cow did last year that was really good. People love Coppertop’s cheese beer soup and the gumbo. We’ve had some corn-basil and all kinds of stuff. There’s a variety and they’re all donated; the agencies and restaurants donate 3-5 gallons of soup.”
Over 300 people attended last year’s event, and Jackson said attendance grows every year. However, they will have over 500 bowls available, and unused bowls are retained at Second Harvest for next year’s fundraiser.
“Urbana University has a student coordinating and getting students to help us, so that’s another area we don’t have to worry about at all,” Jackson said. “They recruit student volunteers and it’s typically some of the sports teams. In the past the football team has served the soup to us. I know we have well over 60 student volunteers there that evening that assist with making that evening happen. “
Second Harvest Food Bank is also in the process of becoming a 501c3 non-profit organization. Catholic Charities, their current parent organization, signed over their building to them in October 2018, and Jackson said her goal is to have the process finished by January 2020.
To help with that effort, they are looking to recruit an additional 1,000 donors to contribute $25 a month for a year. That fundraising drive will launch in the near future. For more information, contact Second Harvest Food Bank at 937-325-8715.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304