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Lisa Flynn makes a bowl on a potter's wheel while her son, Morgan, stands nearby at a bowlmaking session at Grace Christian School in Bennington during the summer. (Photo by Mark E. Rondeau)



Bowlin Em Over: Getting ready for the Empty Bowls Supper in Bennington

Staff Writer
From the Bennington Banner, Oct. 1 2009
BENNINGTON — So many painted bowls with so many different designs all together in one place might be enough to bowl someone over.

Over the summer, dozens of local volunteers have made more than 500 bowls for the Empty Bowls Supper, which will be held on Sunday, Oct. 11, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Mount Anthony Union High School.

The cost is a minimum donation of $10 per person. Advance tickets are available at the Bennington Bookshop.

Those attending will have a chance to choose a hand-made "empty bowl," which will be filled with soup.

Then they can share a meal with friends, neighbors and strangers. The proceeds will benefit those who need assistance from the Food and Fuel Fund program of the Bennington Interfaith Community Services organization.

"The first 500 people who come to the event will receive a bowl to eat their soup in and take home. Beyond that, people are welcome to come and have soup," said Sue Andrews, one of the organizers of the supper.

Andrews is executive director of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services Inc., where she administers the Food and Fuel Fund and oversees the Bennington Free Clinic. She spoke to a reporter on Sept. 15 at Congregation Beth El's gathering hall. Members of Mount Anthony Union High School's Student International Club -- including exchange students -- were there intently decorating bowls.

"We have had a whole bunch of bowl-building and painting events in the community all summer, and this is hopefully our last one," Andrews said.

"Basically, there are two goals to what we are doing. One is consciousness raising about hunger here in Bennington County," she said. "Fourteen percent of families experience hunger every month in Bennington County, either without enough food or not the right kinds of food."

The other purpose of the Empty Bowls Supper is to raise money.

According to information from the Empty Bowl project blog, in 2008, 10 percent of Vermont households were unable to access enough food to fully meet their basic needs at all times. The statistics are even more dire for children: One in six children in Vermont experiences hunger.

In Bennington County alone, more than 1,400 children under the age of 18 experience hunger. More than a third of all Vermonters cannot afford either enough food or nutritious food. And the current economic crisis has made circumstances even more difficult for local families. Visits to local food pantries and requests for help from the Food and Fuel Fund have increased drastically over the past year.

Bowl-making events in August included a bowl-glazing party at Grace Christian School which was attended by 76 people. During Bennington Battle Day, people made 100 bowls.

"It's been all about community," Andrews said. "It's all about sitting at the table and pushing up against the sweaty person next to you and chatting and getting to know people from all different walks of life. We've done events at pre-schools, we've been up at the UCS [United Counseling Service] wellness fair and had adult clients with mental health disabilities, adult clients with developmental delays making bowls.

"We've been to a lot of the faith communities," she said. "So, they're fabulous. It has raised consciousness, I think."

Organizers have solicited soups from many different restaurants.

"So everybody who comes together will have a fine dining setup at Mount Anthony Union High School," Andrews said. "People will be able to try as many foods as they wish in the bowl of their choice and then they get to take the bowl home with them. It becomes a memento, a reminder of what it's all about."

Most of the bowls are hand-made, meaning they were not made on a pottery wheel, and bowlmakers ranged in age from toddlers to senior citizens. Between 50 and 100 of the bowls, however, were made by local artists, Andrews said.

Bruce Lierman, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Bennington, said at the event on Sept. 15 that he had made six bowls on three different occasions. He agreed that it's a fun activity, "although in some ways it's more challenging than I expected, because I haven't worked with clay since probably the eighth grade at the latest. Just trying to make it do what you want is more challenging than I thought," he said. "I've learned as I've gone along."

Another person present at the Sept. 15 event had another insight into the process.

"It's interesting, in this process nobody makes their own bowl, right, because you make the bowl, then it gets fired, it gets glazed. So you make parts of bowls," said Vanessa Boettiger, wife of Congregation Beth El's head rabbi, Joshua Boettiger, and who is also a rabbi herself. "So we did. We made a bunch of bowls and glazed them. And it's just wonderful to watch everybody doing it."

Those who wish to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Food and Fuel Fund, may send it to 107 Adams St., Bennington, VT 05201.

Empty Bowls blog: