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Communique: Wilmington Empty Bowls | Friday, March 16

Empty Bowls Wilmington
Full pots at Empty Bowls

This is the year for Wilmington's biennial Empty Bowls event that supports Mother's Hubbard Cupboard and Good Shepherd Center. There is a 2 1/2 hour window to get one of the 1,500+ bowls, some soup, and a cookie on Friday, March 16, 11:00am til 1:30pm.

Credit Empty Bowls Wilmington
Ceramic bowls--1,500 of them--plus wooden bowls this year as well

Katrina:   I'm Katrina Knight, the executive director of Good Shepherd Center.

Jane:      And I'm Jane Radic. I am the chair of the 2018 Empty Bowl event and I'm also the vice chair of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard.

Gina:      Who, where did the idea who started Empty Bowls?

Jane:      Historically, nationally, because we can't take credit for that. It's an actual, it's a national event and it is interpreted differently wherever you may attend it, but it here in Wilmington, North Carolina, it's our ninth event, but we do it every other year because precisely because we have artisans that are making these beautiful pots and it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to make those beautiful pots. So we only ask them to do it every other year because we ask for 1,500 pots, at least.

Gina:      1,500 pots.

Jane:      At least.

Gina:      At least.

Jane:      Always hopeful for more.

Gina:      And I've been to it before. This is where you get to go buy a bowl and you get a little soup in it?

Jane:      No, you buy the ticket, you wait in the soup line.

Gina:      Oh you don't get it in the bowl.

Jane:      That's right. Just health reasons would and cleaning reasons.

Gina:      That's a good idea. And you can actually get it to go if you want. Or you can sit down.

Jane:      Yes and we, every year we do, or every other year we reflect upon the, the past event and do our best to even export people in a more express manner because we know people want to participate, but we know some people have to get in and get out. So this year we're even more hopeful.

Gina:      Let's start with the artisans. OK? So artists, ceramicists?

Jane:      The clay guild really is the, they head up the call to arms. So we have handmade pottery and this year we also have, um, wooden bowls that are coming to us by artisans. So the call goes out to all potters and now people make wooden bowls and I, if I'm not mistaken, I think this year might be the first time we also have some hand-painted bowls. So there's all kinds of artwork, but it's the clay guild that really they're the people that know the art, the artists and gather all of those bowls.

Gina:      And then somebody makes soup.

Katrina:   A whole host of restaurants. Ann from Portland Grill really heads up that effort and through her efforts really, and the this wonderful committee of volunteers, a number of area restaurants, sort of premier restaurants, if you will, are identified that each volunteer to donate gallons of a special soup that they make expressly for the event. And so when you come through the soup line, you actually end up with at least four or five different options to choose from for your special soup that day.

Gina:      And then if I remember correctly, you get bread.

Jane:      In the past we have had bread. This year we will not be having bread, we will be having cookies, lots of cookies. But this year we will not be having bread. So it's this year, it is, um, as we like people to think about those who do not know where their next meal may be coming from, it is truly a soup line this year because it will be focused on the soup alone.

Gina:      And where is this occurring?

Jane:      First Baptist Activity Center on Independence.

Katrina:   And I don't know if we've said, but it's Friday, March 16, starting at 11:00 AM and going until 1:30 PM. Usually most folks buy their tickets in advance at various locations around town that we've publicized. Ordinarily we do have some tickets leftover though for folks to buy at the door as well.

Jane:      Yeah. And we're never sure because as I like to say to the committee- math works. We have to count all the bowls the night before to know how many tickets we can sell at the door. So we always have to make sure that there's a bowl for every ticket that is sold.

Gina:      And there's a whole list of places where people can pick up tickets.

Jane:      Yes. Wilmington Empty Bowls Facebook has a list of all of those places and there should be location wherever you happen to be living in town because we even have a place in Carolina beach this year. Um, so we, we try to make sure that those tickets are readily available, easily located to wherever you may live.

Gina:      Let's say I'm trying to, let's say like I've never heard about this and basically you're coming up to me and you're saying, "Hey, let's go to the soup line.” Why would I do that?

Jane:      So the, the purpose of the event is to raise awareness about global hunger as well as local hunger and because Good Shepherd and Mother Hubbard's Cupboard work together with wonderful volunteers, um, to, to help this event take place. Mother Hubbard's Cupboard is an emergency food bank. So half of the money that is raised comes to us and we are there for people that can't quite bridge that gap in their month with their food insecurity. So we're there, you know, for those people. And then Good Shepherd, I'll let Katrina talk to that, but they also address hunger, local hunger at Good Shepherd

Katrina:   For our part, we're sort of a compliment to Mother Hubbard's Cupboard and vice versa. We send folks their way who need pantry items as, as Jane is explaining. Our guests who come to our soup kitchen, you know, their elderly folks, they're people on a fixed income, they're working poor, they are moms who are skipping dinner every night because there's not enough to go around, you know, they have to feed their kids and maybe they only get dinner if there's something leftover. And so we are preparing healthy and substantial meals Monday through Friday, breakfast and lunch to try to help those folks, you know, get through their day and their week. And again, uh, it's not unusual for them to also need pantry items. And so Mother Hubbard's Cupboard is our number one place to refer those folks to, to, to supplement, you know, what they might have at home, um, and to have healthful food at home that they can make meals from.

Jane:      Yeah. And I liked that Katrina said nutritious and healthful because that is a real focus at Mother Hubbard's as well. When you do, when you're stretching your dollars, you don't always stretch your dollars in a way that is as healthful because a lot of those items are more expensive. So we have committed at Mother Hubbard's to really do our best to stock our shelves that are mostly client choice so they come in and get what they need, um, with health healthful nutritious choices, um, that they may not be able to afford on their own. Um, so when you come to empty bowls and you're purchasing that ticket for $20 because we have such a teeny tiny overhead because the soup is donated, the beautiful pots are donated, all of the work hours are donated. Um, the vast majority of the money- we made over $50,000 in 2016.

Jane:      That goes back to Mother Hubbard's and Good Shepherd to help those in our community. Um, you know, who might be food insecure and you, you'd be surprised. Um, there, you know, in 2017, Mother Hubbard's served over 32,000 people. And one fourth of those were kids. So there, there is hunger is an issue and not, I'm obviously not struggling with that with eating my pop tart and Pepsi.

Gina:      I was going to ask about that, like did you guys have like pop tarts and Pepsi's with your healthful?

Jane:      That was not so healthful this morning. It was fun. But yeah, that's not what we'd be stocking on our shelves though, you know, because we want to give them the most nutrition that we can.

Katrina:   One of the things I really appreciate about the Empty Bowls event, it was already established before I moved to Wilmington. This is, this is only my seventh of the nine events that the community has put on, but you know, so many fundraisers or opportunities to go and financially support one or another non-profit in our community. Sometimes those are pretty high ticket, high dollar value kinds of entry, you know, experiences. And you know, this is one that is really an equalizer for folks. You know, uh seniors who, you know, may not have a lot of extra income still feel able to buy a $20 ticket and come and have fun with their friends, standing in a line might not sound like fun, but actually, you know, during that wait people are kind of going up and down the line. We have celebrity servers who come and take shifts serving the, the, uh, the soup to the folks who come through. And it really is. I don't know, there's kind of an air of fun it's very upbeat actually.

Jane:      And I, and we definitely, you know, we do try to make sure that we're not pricing out anyone in the community that would really like to participate because their money is going towards the charities but they also get this event and then of course, you know at the end they get to pick out the bowl that calls their name, which is always exciting. And this year we are doing something a little different that we've never done before because there is a soup line and because if you're not in the express to go line, you probably will be waiting for at least some point, sometime, we are going to give people the opportunity if they have feel like that they would like to donate beyond what they already did in purchasing their ticket. We are going to offer that opportunity. We've never done that before. We're kind of calling it a call to the heart or food for your fellow man. But we will have that as an opportunity this year. But that $20 we do really, we do understand this is a community wide event.

Jane:      And it's, it feels good, it's fun, it tastes good and you walk away with something beautiful. So.

Katrina:   There really are there. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and bragged about the collection of bowls that they've developed over the years, you know, they'll say, "Oh, this is going to be my fifth one and I'm looking for one to go with my other ones," and they, how they display them in their homes or even in their workplace. So it's really, it's kind of taken on a life of its own. And uh, you know, I moved here in an off year where we weren't going to have Empty Bowls, we just had it earlier that calendar year. And so I had to really quickly learn about Empty Bowls and explain to, to folks that well, next year we'll have it again and we can look forward to that.

Jane:      The every other year thing always throws people for a loop there. Like, "Wait, did I, did I miss it? Did I make up?" No, no, it's an off year. It's fine. Where it's coming back. It's coming back around. And I use my bowls because you know, the pottery bowls, the pottery bowls especially, you know, they can take heat, you know, I use those bowls, I serve in those and they have just so much personality. I love them. And they're all different. You know, the one that calls my name every year is never the same or similar to the one that called me the other thing.

Katrina:   I think the most fun is to stand in that pottery room and watch folks as they literally struggle to pick out their bowl. I think time can kind of slow down once folks get into the bowl room because they, as Jane mentioned, your, you gravitate to one and then you see another one and think, Oh no wait. And it's not unusual for various of us to pull out a credit card or a check and to buy multiple tickets for one person so that we can buy extras for a gift or because frankly we couldn't decide between three or four bowls and had to pay extra.

Jane:      Or you know, we have. I have friends that because of work or something else, they can't make the event and they're like, pick me out a bowl. And so then you're OK. Let me think about this person and you know what would be just right for. Yeah. So it is, it's just the, just the room itself, to look at that room with all those bowls is just a thing of beauty in and of itself. It's, it's truly.

Katrina:   And each one really is special. Yeah.

Gina:      Where was it two years ago?

Jane:      Same Place. First Baptist. First Baptist Activity Center on Independence. I want to make sure I clarify that, that it's the Activity Center.

Katrina:   We were at St James downtown for some years, but they're just the parking alone was an issue.

Gina:      I feel like the last time I went was actually, I feel like the last time I was at St James.

Katrina:   And the line would snake around the block. Right?

Gina:      Right. But I feel like we got a bowl two years ago. I think my husband may have gone in. I mean to me it's, it's just like if you're going to buy 20 bucks for Christmas presents, you should just buy like 10 bowls for $100.

Jane:      That's a great idea. Right.

Gina:      I mean, what better way to buy a bowl.

Jane:      I admit sometimes I, I'll think to myself that this is going to be a gift and then I find I can't part with it. And so I ended up with all these bowls, you know, so I've ended up with my own kind of collection that were supposedly going to be gifts and that I, I ended up selfishly kind of becoming attached to, but.

Katrina:   When my kids were not at college when they were in town and they were the first time I went, my middle child was five and she got to pick out her bowl and you know, and she still has that bowl and, you know, it's amazing to me that like, I'm always like, "Well, would you like to leave these home now? OK, you can take them with you." My bowls go with me. OK. All right.

Gina:      Basically if, you know, people get their soup, they can eat there or they could take it away.

Katrina:   Correct.

Gina:      Good Shepherd Center doesn't just feed the people breakfast and lunch, but they also house people. And do those folks do this dinner too?

Jane:      They do. We added a dinner meal several years ago when we opened our night shelter, so we do serve a dinner meal every night of the year, but we target that just to the men, women and children who've come in to stay with us for the night. So we do have quite a number of dinner meals again every night of the year. Um, they're just not open to the entire community the way that our weekday breakfasts and lunches are.

Katrina:   We just want to emphasize, you know, that even though it is this community social event, and obviously the bowls are our superstars along with our celebrity servers, that really the, the main purpose of it is really to remind people that not just globally, but locally, we do have people that are food insecure and we do want to keep that in people's minds and in their hearts throughout the year. Because I don't know if this is the case for Good Shepherd but for sure for Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, people always think of others during the holiday seasons, which stretches, you know, from early November until January. And then, you know, we get busy with our lives and things and, and, and we end up with a lot of bare cupboards starting late spring through the summer. We have to really dig into our coffers to make sure we have enough. So, you know, we do want to remind people that this really is to remember that, you know, there are people in the Wilmington community that are struggling to, to put food on their tables.

Katrina:   So I read a statistic just in the last couple of weeks, so that something like more than 34,000 households just in New Hanover County are food insecure, meaning they don't have reliable access to quantities of food or healthy food. And I just think, you know, that's a pretty sobering number. That's a lot of seniors who are probably going without, uh, you know, going hungry. Exactly children who aren't prepared for school because they're too hungry to focus, you know, that's a lot of our neighbors that, that we need to be concerned about.

Jane:      And food is such a basic. It's just, you know, one of the basic things that we need to live to survive and healthy nutrition to thrive. You know, it's just, it is. It's shocking really, especially in the United States of America where we think of food as being so abundant.

Katrina:   In a community where we have so much, right? So I know for Good Shepherd's part we're we're grateful day to day, we know we have Mother Hubbard's Cupboard and all their amazing volunteers as our partners every day trying to address this really significant issue in our community. But empty bowls is also a way to show our partnership too.

Jane:      Yeah, because every week we are working together, um, you know, Mother Hubbard's Cupboard is run completely by volunteers and Good Shepherd is a mixture, you know, and we, every week we're working back and forth and we're thankful to Good Shepherd because sometimes they have an abundance of something that doesn't necessarily work into their hot meals that ends up on our shelves then for our, for our clients. So yeah, it is, it is a nice thing every other year just to show the community that, you know, we're partners fighting hunger.

Gina:      And just real quick, people can also be a sponsor of this event for a large donation.

Jane:      Yeah. So I think if my statistics are correct in 2016, I think about 35 percent of the money we raised came from sponsors. So business, corporation, individual sponsors. Um, so that information is also on our Facebook, but you along with the sponsorship, depending on how much you donate to the cause you are part of a Powerpoint that is playing all day, you know, throughout the entire event in all of the rooms. And then you also get, depending on how much you've donated you get a specific amount of tickets. But yes, we, we realized we can only make as much money from the ticket sales as the bowls that we have. So we really do depend on our sponsors and then this year we are going to do that little call to heart, which in case people want to donate a little bit more and we'll have some specific statistics in case they want to say, "Oh yeah, I'd like to cover a family of four's meal for a day," or something like that. We will have some statistics so that they can kind of feel that tangible impact of their donation.

Gina:      Are you guys going to have any people playing music?

Jane:      Not that I'm aware of.

Gina:      I bet somebody will show up and play music.

Jane:      That'll be fine. That's a good idea.

Katrina:   Did that happen one year? We did, I think we didn't have time to think it did happen.

Jane:      I forgot about that. Every other year, you know, it's good thing we have institutional memory to an extent.

Gina:      Let me ask you've both been here for a number of years working with this population who, um, have you seen things change on any level or in any dimension of it?

Jane:      So I'm going to say that when we had that huge recession that if I'm going to say 200ish, our numbers skyrocketed. We're open five days a week for two hours. We are, you know, trying to get everybody through. We were seeing more than a hundred plus individuals, so that could be head of households representing families up to seven or it could be an individual and we were in two hours we were trying to get all those people through. Then I would say our numbers, um, kinda got, have been more steady in the over the last year and a half I would say, which we felt good. Like we, if we didn't no longer needed Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, that would be ideal. Right? So we were, we were, our statistics were starting to be like, oh, OK, well maybe things are making a difference, you know, things are, people are starting to um, have a little bit more security.

Jane:      And just recently we've all started to see our numbers again and one of the statistics that we keep track of are people that are new and every month we have probably anywhere between 100 and 200 new households that come because the people that come to us. It's not the same people. Some people may come one month in two years because that was the month they were struggling, you know, and then some people come, you know, it's, it's on a need basis. So between 100 and 200 households a month new that suddenly find themselves because their car broke down, they had to decide between can I get to work or can I go to the grocery store? You know, that, that type of thing. So in that way, I wish it had changed more. You know?

Katrina:   I think that, you know, it continues to be the case, but it's probably worsening that, you know, it's not that folks don't intend to go buy food, you know, they plan to go to the grocery store. It's just for a lot of households, whether it's one person or a family with children, it's like the last thing that gets purchased. So once they've paid their housing costs, transportation, medication, there just isn't anything left over. You can try to do a budgeting exercise with a lot of folks and we certainly do, but a lot of times that's a deficit and you're trying to figure out, well, how in the world have you made it this long? You've had to be very resourceful because we can't see how you would cover your basics with, with your income and with your different costs. And as housing costs in this community more and more edge out money that is needed for, for other vital life expenses. I think we're gonna see more and more hungry children, hungry working adults, hungry seniors, you know, on a fixed income. Uh, there just isn't enough leftover at the end of the day, at the end of the month once folks have, have paid for what is now the norm of, you know, a one bedroom apartment for seven, $800 a month. It's pretty sobering when you look at those numbers.

Jane:      And I think everybody can relate to the fact that life is unpredictable. You just do not know what's around the corner it. But I would say for a lot of the people that we serve, they are much more aware of how unpredictable it is. Especially financially. And like I said, we have had people that their car broke down, they walk from near the airport to get there to get food, you know, because they cannot, they've got to make a decision. Are they going to get that car fixed, you know? And when the money comes in that's going to have to go towards that, you know, or someone gets sick or you know, we have seniors who are suddenly taking care of two of their grandkids on a fixed income. So, you know, I think that was something that, that is just so clear. We all know that life is unpredictable. It's just we, most of us, I mean have, have never had that particular hunger in the pit of our stomach.

Gina:      It's like how many, how much margin do you have on your budget? You know, and that's what it comes down to every month. It's like, you know, how much padding is there? And I think a lot of people don't have a lot of padding. Right. And depending on, you know, how Spartan your existence is, one little thing goes wrong and if you need a pair of shoes could be. It could break you that month.

Katrina:   Right, right. And like the car breakdown that you reference. I mean, I can't tell you how many families have been have become homeless because of a car breakdown because that is the linchpin to continuing to get to work and too many missed days of work and lead to losing that job can snowball to being evicted. I mean that. Yeah, that sounds like a stretch, but that is that is an every week situation for a lot of people.

Gina:      I think a lot of people do who don't ever interact with people who are financially insecure. They just don't get it. You know, a lot of people just don't get it. It's like, "Well, get a job."

Jane:      And the vast majority of the clients we serve have jobs. Right? Yeah. You know, that's the thing. They have jobs.

Katrina:   It's like when you asked if something had changed. It's interesting. On the one hand, I think we've done such a better job by our homeless guests over the last several years of ending their homelessness and helping them not return to housing crisis. By the same token, I think the proportion of people who come to our soup kitchen are more and more housed people. They're housed, but they still really live at the margins, you know, and we certainly can't claim to have solved their poverty. We're trying to alleviate hunger. We're trying to improve their physical health and probably by extension their mental health. But, uh, you know, that's, that's, there's, there's an irony there. I don't, I don't think if you had asked me several years ago, I don't think I would've looked forward and thought, oh, the majority of folks are going to be housed working people who are still in need. This idea that if you try hard and you work hard, it all works out for you doesn't hold true for an awful lot of our neighbors.

Transcription Assistance by Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright