Please, Sir, May We Have Some More?

Ninth Annual Empty Bowls event uses handcrafted pottery to raise money to fight hunger

By Michael Hardy May 17, 2013


Potter Jay Calder is donating 200 handcrafted bowls to raise money for the Houston Food Bank

Empty Bowls
May 18 from 11–2 (Soup served from 11 until it runs out)
$25 minimum donation
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
4848 Main St

The Empty Bowls Project was founded in 1990 by John Hartom, a fine arts teacher at a Michigan high school who decided to use art to raise awareness and money to fight hunger. Hartom’s class asked their friends and family to donate money for a simple meal of soup and bread, after which the guests could take home a ceramic bowl made by one of the students. Since then, the idea has spread across the country, with hundreds of “Empty Bowls” events held every year. Thomas Perry, a Houston potter who has been an artist-in-residence at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, first heard of about the project in late 2003.

“The event was happening in other cities in Texas—Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio,” Perry says. “Houston’s a bigger city, so why not here?”

Along with two other potters, Perry founded the Houston version of “Empty Bowls” in 2004. They asked local artists and art students at Houston schools to contribute bowls for the fundraiser, ending up with almost 500 bowls and $16,000 in donations for the Houston Food Bank. The event has grown bigger every year—in 2012, Empty Bowls solicited 2,000 bowls and raised $68,000.

Tomorrow, the ninth annual Empty Bowls event will be held at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Whole Foods will furnish the soup and bread, local artists will furnish the bowls, and the organizers are hoping that plenty of Houstonians will pony up the minimum $25 donation. Perry says that around 300 artists will together contribute around 1,500 bowls to the effort, including 200 from a single potter, Jay Calder (pictured), and another three potters contributing 100 bowls each.

The money raised will go to support the Houston Food Bank, which serves around 130,000 Houstonians a month. “[Hunger] is a pretty significant problem, even in a wealthy city like Houston,” Perry says. “It’s not just homeless people. It’s a lot of people who may have lost their jobs, or they may be single parents trying to feed their children.”

Unlike Empty Bowls events in other cities, Houston artists are free to make their bowls out of anything they want—wood, fiberglass, cloth, papier-mâché, or any other material their imagination suggests. Fortunately, the bowls don’t have to actually hold liquid; for sanitary reasons, guests will be served their soup in biodegradable paper bowls, which will then be recycled by Waste Management, one of the event’s sponsors.

“We’re trying to be green,” Perry says. 

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