Empty Bowls hopes to raise $75,000. Last year it provided nearly $3 million in food.

Courtesy Interfaith Community Services

A force of volunteers with Interfaith Community Services believes that empty bowls should be filled, hungry neighbors should be fed and the art of hand-made pottery should be enjoyed by everyone.

That vision will be brought to fruition at a distinctive event known as Empty Bowls 2018 to Benefit ICS Food Banks, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. March 3 at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, 1288 W. River Road.

The collaborative fundraiser has become celebrated as an afternoon to bring the community together to taste an array of soups, bread and desserts provided by local eateries in hand-crafted bowls created by local potters — with the added bonus that each attendee takes home a bowl of his or her choosing.

“This is our seventh annual Empty Bowls and we have become one of the largest events of this type in the country. Our goal this year is to raise $75,000,” said Steve Pollyea, a former chairman of the board and long-time volunteer for ICS Food Banks. “The success is really due to a tremendous number of people in our community working together. ... There are lots of generous people pulling together to make it happen.”

Pollyea believes the massive effort is inspired by direct community impact: Last year ICS Food Banks served more than 32,000 households with $2.9 million in emergency food; more than 50 percent of clients served were families with school-age children at home.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will be funneled into the ongoing operational expenses of the original food bank at 2820 W. Ina Road and the east-side location at New Spirit Lutheran Church, 8701 E. Old Spanish Trail. A portion of the funds will also be used to expand a mobile food pantry program.

“We know there are a lot of people who struggle to get to our food banks. They have very long rides or don’t have vehicles or don’t live near public transportation. A mobile food pantry will make it more convenient for them and make food more accessible to other pockets of needy people in our community,” Pollyea said.

He emphasized that need is widespread and that roughly 25 percent of families in Southern Arizona struggle with food insecurity in spite of an economy that has improved over the past several years.

“They are in really tough situations that require them to make decisions between paying for food, rent, utilities, health care and resources to support their kids. There is a core of people who are on the edge, about to fall off of a cliff into very difficult circumstances, and we hope to help them avoid that,” Pollyea said.

Among those supporting the effort is Frank Tomizuka of Romero House Potters, one of about 150 potters who has donated time and artistry to create 1,200 bowls for the event.

Tomizuka, who has donated pieces for the past six years, said he was drawn to the opportunity to make bowls to help feed people. He also appreciates the chance to showcase his naturalistic, simple approach to pottery — a style that embraces the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, which he described as “a traditional Japanese aesthetic term for beauty within imperfection.”

Tomizuka believes his work, like that of many potters, is sometimes met with uncertainty.

“People see the rim has a wobble in it, or this side is uneven and the glaze is partly splashed on and there is initially a cautious reaction. Then once they pick it up, it feels sort of interesting with undulations and crevices for your fingers to touch. And once you use a piece, sometimes a feeling kicks in — you find a way to appreciate it, like you learn to love an imperfect child. I think that each person’s experience of the beauty of the things I make comes from within them,” he said.

Finally, Tomizuka thinks that Empty Bowls provides an ideal introduction to the art of pottery while supporting a compelling cause, which is rewarding for everyone involved.

“For a lot of people, this is their first experience with a handmade piece of pottery. People who attend are giving their time and resources to help people who are hungry and in need, and that makes us, as potters, want to give something extra special back and be part of this whole circle of kindness,” Tomizuka said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net