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Choosing a bowl is even easier with this year's Friday night preview.

Hundreds of artists have spent the past months making thousands of bowls out of ceramic, wood, metal, fiber, paper and more, all to donate to the Houston Food Bank and Empty Bowls Houston. This Saturday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. or soup runs out, a $25 donation will get guests a bowl of their choice and a bare-bones soup meal, with proceeds going to the Houston Food Bank. This year, for the first time, a Friday preview party will allow folks to peruse the bowls early and buy their favorite before the big day. 

Renee LeBlanc, chair of Empty Bowls Houston, says that 5,000 children go hungry in Southeast Texas each day. The Houston Food Bank cites a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that one in six Texas households struggle with hunger. Empty Bowls is working with the Houston Food Bank to help change that.

“It’s not just the homeless people you see in the corners. In fact, the Houston Food Bank provides food to lots of people. The homeless consist of only three percent of those Houston Food Bank helps. A lot of them are children,” LeBlanc said.

This is the 12th year that the Houston chapter of Empty Bowls has held events to raise money for the Houston Food Bank. Last year, the event raised raised more than $95,000. The sum of the first eleven years? $589,831 worth of food for the hungry.

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Learning to make a bowl.

This year, besides the soup lunch with hot and cold options provided by Whole Foods, along with water and Slow Dough bread, GoodPop will provide popsicles and Katz Coffee will bring bolstering brews. Pottery artists will demonstrate their craft on wheels, wood artists will work on turning lathes, the Houston Polymer Clay Guild will show off their skills and poets on typewriters will be typing poems on the fly. Give them a few words, in ten minutes they’ll have a poem. Add in face painters and local musicians, and LeBlanc said they are creating a “family friendly atmosphere.”

“Sometimes, personally, I feel like art is an indulgence of mine; that it’s a selfish thing I do just for myself because I like doing it. I sometimes have this existential moment where I really need to make a difference in the world,” said LeBlanc, who is herself an artist. “This is that bridge for me, and I think it is for a lot of people, a lot of artists. It’s a way that they can use the talents that they have either developed or were given from birth to make a difference in the world. For some people in some countries, art is a real luxury. In Houston, we’re using our art to provide basic needs for people.”

Empty Bowls started 26 years ago as a school project by Ohio art teacher John Hartom, who served soup to other teachers in bowls his students made at a luncheon. While they ate, he used the opportunity to raise awareness for the local food bank. The event quickly became an international grassroots organization.

“(I love) the day of the event; seeing 800 plus people coming through that door in the general spirit of wanting to help our community. And that’s just the people there to buy the bowls. We also during the day get tons of volunteers that show up that are all excited about this. A lot of them say this is their favorite activity of the whole year,” LeBlanc said. “Last year, it was about to rain and I was emailing the demonstrators. I was saying, ‘Well, you guys, if it rains, we have to cancel.’ One guy wrote back, he says, ‘Please don’t cancel, it’s the one time of the year that all the artists get together.’ It pulls everybody together from different walks of life. It’s just a great, feel-good experience.”

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