EAU CLAIRE — The bowls used for Feed My People Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowls fundraiser will live up to their name this year.
While the delicious soup that usually fills the bowls purchased by donors will be another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eau Claire-based food bank still plans to serve up its largest annual fundraiser in virtual form.
“We’ve definitely had to pivot and change up what we’re doing,” Feed My People spokeswoman Susie Haugley said, expressing optimism that the event will meet its usual goal of raising more than $100,000 thanks to increased support from sponsors and artists.
Two local potters — Dan Ogan and Sue McIntyre — have made it their mission to fill the plates of hungry neighbors by doing what they can to make Empty Bowls a success.
The pair, who ply their trade at a multiuse Eau Claire facility called The Center, donated more than 150 bowls to the fundraiser last year but decided to do more this year because they figured the food bank might have a harder time raising money for a virtual event.
“This year Sue and I just said, ‘Let’s up it,’ “ said Ogan, who previously was a volunteer truck driver for the food bank. “We started out setting a goal of 200, then it went to 300, then 400, then 450 and finally 500 bowls.”
Ogan and McIntyre, who have been throwing, firing, glazing and painting bowls for the fundraiser since October, crafted the final 50 bowls late last week to give them a total of 500 ceramic soup bowls to donate to Empty Bowls. They also plan to donate a number of bigger pieces for a silent auction.
The artists, both retired educators, stressed that their work is for a great cause.
Feed My People distributed 8.3 million pounds of food, likely to more than 70,000 people in need, in a 14-county region of west-central Wisconsin last year. Its distribution soared 35% after the pandemic struck in March 2020.
“There really is an incredible need in our community and we’re seeing more people in need of food resources,” Haugley said.
Feed My People officials are bowled over by the support of Ogan, McIntyre and other contributing artists, especially considering that schools that previously held bowl-making parties for the fundraiser have scaled back their efforts this year because of the virus.
“We are so impressed and so grateful,” Haugley said of the 500-bowl donation by Ogan and McIntyre. “It’s just another demonstration of the kinds of creative support that are needed to make something like this come together.”
It takes about 1.5 to 2 pounds of wet clay to make each one-of-a-kind bowl, McIntyre said, estimating that she and Ogan probably have spent about $800 apiece on materials for the project. But it’s an investment they are happy to make, and it allows them to support an important charity by doing something they enjoy.
“It brings us joy to do this, and it gives us something to do in retirement,” McIntyre said.
Ogan called the project “truly a labor of love” and said his self-imposed quarantine during the pandemic limits him to spending time predominantly at home, the grocery store and the pottery studio.
In all, Haugley said Food My People is aiming to hand out 2,500 soup bowls in this year’s fundraiser, plus several larger pieces that will be available for bid in a virtual silent auction. Instead of soup, the bowls will be filled with local recipes and coupons to restaurants that typically supply the meal for Empty Bowls. The nonprofit organization will distribute gift bags containing the bowls in drive-thru format March 1-6.
“It won’t be the usual meal experience, but it’s a way to make the meal,” Haugley said.
With each bowl to be given out for a $20 donation and Feed My People able to deliver four meals for every dollar donated, Ogan said it’s gratifying to realize that the 500 bowls contributed by the two potters alone will generate 40,000 meals.
“This is our little part,” Ogan said. “Whatever we can do to help, that’s how we look at it.”