It's not often that for just $15 you can sample a nearly unlimited amount of soup and accompaniments from several notable Tucson restaurants, plus take home a handmade ceramic bowl.
That's exactly what you're invited to do Saturday at the Second Annual Interfaith Community Services "Empty Bowls" fundraiser, which runs 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, 1288 W. River Road.
In addition to soup, the $15 gets you breads, cheese and desserts. Proceeds go to the Interfaith Community Services Food Bank.
The event has garnered the support of local pottery studios, artists and volunteers who have created 1,000 bowls since January. Organizers seek to raise $35,000 to fund operations at the ICS food bank for five to six months.
"It is a community outpouring, a coming together of local potters and artisans, local eateries, businesses and volunteers to help neighbors struggling with hunger," said Deborah Carr, development director for the nonprofit Interfaith Community Services.
A highlight of the event is tastings of a wide range of soups and stews including prime-beef chili and gluten-free and vegetarian soups, chicken tortilla soup, green chile stew and butternut squash soup.
ICS, a partnership of 73 diverse faith community partners, opened an expanded 2,700-square-foot food bank at 2820 W. Ina Road in October 2011. Since then it has experienced a growth of 40 to 50 percent in food bank clientele. Last month it served 1,892 families, half of whom have children.
The agency, which serves people all over Pima County, also provides emergency financial help, meal delivery through Mobile Meals of Tucson, health advocacy and caregiving services such as transportation, home repairs and visits to more than 25,000 seniors, disabled people and families in financial crisis.
"The food bank is very visual, but the beauty of ICS is the wraparound services where we provide other help, including assistance with job searches through our Job Resource Center," said Executive Director Bonnie Kampa.
Interfaith Community Services also works with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona as a point of distribution for emergency food boxes.
Empty Bowls committee member Mary Ann Brody has witnessed many aspects of ICS services since she began volunteering five years ago. Brody, owner of Kissed By an Italian, a personal-chef and catering service, said the ICS food bank evolved from the wide array of outreach programs.
"It was a natural progression since they performed outreach already through services such as grocery shopping for elderly people and emergency assistance with utility bills for those in need," she said.
"Unfortunately, you hear in the news every day that there is more and more need out there with the economy, so the food bank is a bigger way to reach out to the community."
The Empty Bowls fundraiser offers another form of outreach by providing a fun, affordable and tasty avenue for the public to become involved in ICS efforts.
"It is a simple way to get our message out to the community and a nice way for people to participate," Brody said. "It is also a great way to get the restaurant community involved, and they have been amazing."
Many of the people who seek help from ICS are formerly stable families struggling with hunger for the first time as the result of unemployment or underemployment.
"We have not seen any sign of need backing off in terms of those needing extra help," Kampa said. "Many of the folks that we see have never asked for help before, and many are embarrassed. Our families are working at lower wages or part time, and a little extra food can really stretch their budgets for the month."
If you go
• What: Second annual Interfaith Community Services "Empty Bowls" fundraiser.
• When: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
• Where: Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, 1288 W. River Road.
• The details: Ticket price includes your choice of a handmade ceramic bowl and soup, bread, cheese and dessert from more than 20 local restaurants and food vendors including Bob's Steak & Chop House at Omni Tucson National Resort, Cabot Creamery, Caffe Torino, El Charro Café, El Saguarito Mexican Food, Flavor of India, Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/ Bistro, The Grill at Hacienda del Sol, Harvest Restaurant, Jax Kitchen/ The Abbey Eat + Drink, Paradise Bakery, Village Bakehouse, Splendido at Rancho Vistoso, Sunrise Senior Living and Wildflower American Cuisine.
• The fundraiser will also feature music and a silent auction and raffles of unique pottery, jewelry and gift items.
• Tickets and info: Cost is $15 per person. Go to www.icstucson.org for tickets or call 297-2738, Ext. 209.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com