As fundraisers go, the annual Empty Bowls event, which goes down this Sunday at the Page Youth Center, is both refreshingly simple ($30 for a ceramic bowl that you fill with soup and bread) and remarkably effective, raising about $140,000 a year for the Santa Barbara County Foodbank. Altogether, in the 17 years since longtime ceramic artist Danyel Dean started the event in 1998, more than $1 million has been raised to support the Foodbank’s many programs. Below, Dean explains to us a little bit more about why she started the event and what to expect this year.
When and why did you start this fundraiser?
In 1998, I heard about Empty Bowls happening in other states. I had been a potter since 1967, had owned a bakery and restaurants for 14 years, and had taught ceramics at Adult Ed since 1976—all the positions needed to make this happen.
How has the event evolved over the years?
Its popularity has grown and the amount of money we’ve raised for the Foodbank has been astounding. I could never have imagined this. But as important as the money raised, this event has successfully expanded awareness of the programs the Foodbank supports to help food insecurity in our community. One in four people in Santa Barbara County get some kind of support from the Foodbank.
Who makes all of the bowls?
Most of the bowls are donated from Center for Lifelong Learning ceramics department, where I teach. A key group of my students make up the Empty Bowls Committee. Five of these women have been involved from 1998. Merrillee Ford, Donnalyn Karpeles, and I make hundreds of bowls each year. Shanon Sedivy, Nancy Krug, and Laurie Potter have made bowls and helped organize the event from the beginning.
In addition to the ceramicists from CLL, many professional ceramic artists donate lovely pieces which are offered in a great silent auction. Over the years it’s been wonderful to have students from elementary, high schools, and the city college make bowls. It’s heart touching to see the student’s willingness to help others.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of Empty Bowls is how the project provides an opportunity for so many in our community to become a meaningful giving circle that helps alleviate hunger.
What can attendees expect in terms of soup and bread?
The soup is donated from many of Santa Barbara’s best restaurants. Donwney’s has donated every year, and others include Bouchon, Ca Dario, Four Seasons Biltmore, Fresco Cafe, Louie’s at the Upham, Lucky’s, Max’s, Olio e Limone, Opal, San Ysidro Ranch, Savoy Cafe & Deli, Seagrass, Secret Ingredients, Sly’s, Tre Luna, and Zookers. New this year are Arlingtion Tavern, Benchmark, The Lark, and Toma. The bread is La Brea Bread donated from Camino Real Marketplace and Costco.
How was this simple meal concept developed?
The idea was created in 1990 by a high school teacher in Michigan as a way for his students to help a local food drive.
Do you have many repeat attendees?
Yes. Hundreds of people come year after year. The effective symbolism along with the dear simplicity is a draw for many. We have a marketplace with oodles of charming ceramics pieces. This is a great place to get meaningful gifts for the holidays. We offer a gift card that tells about the event and that each piece was donated in the spirit of giving.
The 17th annual Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Santa Barbara County Foodbank is this Sunday, November 2, at the Page Youth Center, 4540 Hollister Avenue. Seatings are at 11 a.m., noon, and 1 p.m. The $30 ticket includes soup, bread, and a ceramic bowl to fill and then take home. See emptybowlssantabarbara.com.