Last year, the economy was strong, the holiday shopping season brisk and carefree, and my dad made me proud.
A self-made man, my father went from a childhood in the projects of Owensboro to working two jobs to support our family, to early retirement at 50. But nobody forgets where they come from, and growing up with nothing taught him that a little can mean so much. Last year marked a branching-out in his volunteer work, as he participated in a charity project to "adopt" a low-income family for the holidays, buying gifts that not only brought tears of joy but smiles of hope.
This year, the economy is crumbling, and good jobs are scarce. Times are worse for those who needed help last year, and those who had no need of help are struggling now. Local charities are being taxed and, more startling, food banks are running low. Visions of sugarplums are e_SDHpbeing replaced with cravings for hot, nutritious meals.
"We've seen a huge uptake in food requests" this year, said Jeff Burch, executive director for the Community Action Council, a non-profit agency fighting poverty in Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison, and Nicholas counties. "It becomes a question of, 'Do I buy medicine or pay bills or go to the grocery?'"
"It's scary," said Transylvania University Morlan Gallery director Andrea Fisher. "We try to help, and make a push, to get more bowls" for the school's annual charity event, The Empty Bowls Project.
Begun 16 years ago by Transy ceramic professor Dan Selter, The Empty Bowls Project is a gallery showing of a smorgasbord of soup bowls, made by ceramists and students, offered for $10 apiece in a three-day sale. The event's proceeds go toward a local food bank. This year's recipient is the Community Action Council's food bank.
"The event is so popular," says Fisher, noting that the Morlan Gallery has raised nearly $24,000 for agencies through the bowl sales during the past eight years. "I have had to lock the doors of the gallery until noon, when people rush in."
This year, 500 to 600 bowls will be available, along with up to 20 larger artist-made bowls created by Selter and his students and by Morehead State University ceramics students and professors.
"Steve Tirone, Kira Munsen Campbell and Morehead students have really come through this year," Fisher says. "They have come in this year with a goal of 500 bowls. It's just a sea of color, with that luminescent quality that ceramic has. Now, we just want to get all those bowls sold."
Included with every bowl purchase on Wednesday, opening day, is a ticket to a vegetarian bean soup supper that night, another charity event with proceeds going to Community Action Council.
"It's a simple soup, with corn bread and coffee or water," Fisher says. "It's decidedly simple to mimic what it's like to have little. You're not exactly going to get Starbucks on a Folger's budget."
Tying into this year's supper is another Transy charity event, a solo performance of A Christmas Carol by university drama professor Tim Soulis. Benefiting the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center, the event follows the supper and accepts monetary donations at the door.
"We wanted to make an evening of these events," says Fisher, explaining that the two events are being brought together for the first time.
And why not? For those of us who consider a night out on the town a typical event, one that takes little effort and no problem, a conveniently scheduled evening makes for a pleasurable time. However, The Empty Bowls Project and accompanying events provide relief for those who have a harder time than deciding whether it's worth going out or cheaper to stay home.
That's the beauty of Empty Bowls — and it helps explain the sustained popularity. There's a decided need for those of us who can to participate in the holiday giving season. That we might receive something for it — a beautiful bowl, a moving theater experience — reminds us of our impact and allows us to continue a community tradition of imparting smiles of hope to fellow Kentuckians.