Soups for a Cause: the 13th Annual Empty Bowls at the Meyerson

Handmade bowls (photos by Michelle Saunders

Editorial intern Michelle Saunders popped into the North Texas Food Bank’s yearly fundraiser last Friday. She files this report:

When I headed over to the Meyerson Symphony Center Friday morning for the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Since it was held on DSO’s turf, I assumed that it would be fairly formal. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that sweatpants, sneakers, and spandex would be allowed in the Meyerson (I cringe a bit just writing them in the same sentence!).  No one seemed to mind, however. Everyone was too focused on the steaming soups to be sampled and the beautiful handmade bowls to be purchased to worry about appearances.

What began as a small high school project in Michigan in 1990 has grown into a worldwide fundraising initiative against hunger. Guests purchase a ticket which provides them with a modest meal of soup and bread and a handcrafted empty bowl to take home as a reminder of the epidemic of hunger.

North Texas Food Bank worker serving up soup

When the North Texas Food Bank first approached potter John Williams 15 years ago about hosting an Empty Bowls fundraiser in Dallas, he laughed and said, “Well now that you’ve asked, we have to do it.” And just like that, he and his wife Darlene founded Empty Bowls’ Dallas chapter. According to Williams, the ceramics community in this region is very closely knit and all the potters already knew what EB was.  He reached out to potters who were more than willing to donate bowls to the cause and the first ever Dallas EB was held in 1999 in the basement of First Methodist Church. The first event was not as successful as he’d hoped. Williams says that the event was “more empty chairs than bowls” and they realized that the location was wrong. Moving locations proved to be crucial, and the event has continued to grow every year, uniting the community in the war on hunger.

The North Texas Food Bank, who presented the event in collaboration with Tom Thumb, local restaurants and food suppliers and regional potters, provides 92,000 meals every day for struggling community members. The actual need is much greater, however, and approximately 300,000 meals per day are needed in North Texas. “What people don’t realize says” Colleen Townsley Brinkmann, Chief Philanthropy Officer of the NTFB, ”is how critical the issue of hunger is. One in four children in Texas are at risk for hunger.” Contrary to popular belief, she says, the face of hungers is not primarily the homeless. Today more and more Americans are struggling to feed themselves and their families which is why the NTFB has stepped up to address this critical issue. One dollar provides three meals for hungry North Texans and 100% of the proceeds from EB go directly to funding these meals, which is why it was incredible to see such a huge turnout at Friday’s event.

People waiting in long lines for soup

So what kind of soups could be had? Thanks to local eateries the options were as varied and colorful as the crowd. Everything from down-home Southern staples like navy bean and ham soup with cornbread (NTFB Community Kitchen), and chicken and dumplings (McAlister’s) to more gourmet variations such as tomato and artichoke bisque (Place at Perry’s) and potato and cheddar soup with pancetta (Wolfgang Puck Catering) was available (just to name a few!) with a variety of freshly-baked breads and baked goods as well. While attendees mingled and ate, the DSO’s talented Young Strings provided classical music to ensure a refined experience and aid digestion.

Although a final head count has not yet been released, judging by the long lines at all of the soup stations and to purchase the bowls, I would guess there were a couple thousand people at the event. With tickets ranging from $20-$40, the money raised Friday will provide a lot of meals for hungry families. However, it will take more than one fundraiser to wipe out hunger in North Texas, so continued support is crucial. Couldn’t make it on Friday but want to help? Visit www.ntfb.org to find out how you can give and through the end of March the North Texas Superbowl Committee is matching all donations up to one million dollars.