Food for Thought Blog

Empty Bowls and the Hands That Make Them

March 1st, 2017Stories

by Darin White

Laurie Cowell (left) and Rose Startek started the local instance of Empty Bowls nineteen years ago to support The Food Bank of Waterloo Region to get people fed. It is very much a hands-on effort: each year Waterloo Potters’ Workshop members shape clay bowls by the hundreds with their own hands, those bowls are filled with soup and sold at a charity lunch, the money raised goes to The Food Bank where every dollar donated creates three meals. To help get our community fed, what can you give?

In the Waterloo Region spirit of partnerships, the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery does a ton of work managing ticket sales for the event. Those tickets go on sale April 1st every year and they sell out fast, so get that in your calendar. Right across the street is Knox Waterloo Presbyterian Church that generously hosts two of the three Empty Bowls meals. And on campus, Laurier hosts Empty Bowls at the University. The support continues with other businesses and organizations providing the food and drink, printing services, clay, and more.

Hi, it’s Darin White here doing a little guest storytelling for The Food Bank. It was my delightful privilege to hang out with this whole crew of talented potters in their Waterloo Park workshop one Saturday for their mid-February “bowl-a-thon”. This particular day was a focused push by the group to create as many bowls as possible. I later learned that 344 bowls came out of the gathering. To date, these folks have raised $250,000. That local support is critical given that The Food Bank’s food acquisition and distribution programs receive no government funding. That was one of the many things I learned in the course of doing my homework for this set of stories. I learned a lot about the Waterloo Potters’ Workshop as well. Both of these organizations you may be aware of in an abstract sense. You may have assumed there’s probably a food bank and you may have crossed paths with a spring or fall pottery sale here. I’m going to show you the people in the mix. That makes it all very real and very personal for me. If I’m doing this right, you might feel the same.

Dive in with me for a lot of photos of the people and place that crackles with positive energy. Let’s go…

Nestled atop the hill in Waterloo Park is the Waterloo Potters’ Workshop. They’re celebrating their 50th birthday next year, so we certainly all have a lot to learn about sustainability inside these walls. Starting as a non-profit cooperative with nine members, they now have 125 potters in the group.

I thought I’d be interviewing Laurie and Rose, but when I arrived they were just coming off a chat with Tyler from CTV. “Have him talk with Harriet!

Yes, Harriet!” Laurie piped up from a busy hallway when I rolled in at noon. Here’s Harriet (above) at the wheel, throwing bowls, joking with the other potters *and* talking with me about Empty Bowls. When I asked her how long she had been a member she replied “Well, I joined in 1975, so what’s the math? 42 years?” She is an excellent ambassador for the organization and notes with some glee “I met my husband here. Norm was the electric kiln maintenance person. I married well!”

Harriet estimated that 60 to 75 of the members have their own studio, complete with a kiln, but they still support this long-running group and the Bowl-a-thon is a good reason for them to come together in person. “Empty Bowls is certainly the jewel in our crown. It’s wonderful to be able to give back to the community.” To get to the 600 to 800 bowls needed for Empty Bowls there is even more bowl making that happens at other times like the Workshop’s Celebrate Summer event in June. And potters will often donate bowls from their own studios.

Thank you to all the potters for allowing me into your world. Your joy was infectious and had me walking two feet off the ground for the rest of the day. Bravo to you for supporting The Food Bank of Waterloo Region and helping get people fed in our community. I’ll see you all at Empty Bowls for soup.

Esther gave this bowl to help get our community fed.

What can you give?


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