Sylvia Buchanan and hundreds of other volunteers want bowls to runneth over, literally and figuratively.
They will try to accomplish that mission with the eighth annual Interfaith Community Services’ “Empty Bowls: A Fundraiser to Fight Hunger and Feed Hope” on March 2 at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center.
“I love ceramics. I have collected ceramics for years — I owned Paloma Art Gallery for 10 years and loved finding beautiful pieces and selling ceramics for people to enjoy,” said Buchanan, chairwoman of the Empty Bowls committee.
“I sold the gallery a few years ago, but now I have found an organization where I can help those who are food insecure while I continue with my passion. We not only feed people, but we give out ceramics.”
The distinctive fundraiser — a collaborative effort among artists, potters, restaurants, food vendors and other volunteers — will distribute more than 1,200 handmade bowls to the community while seeking to raise $90,000 to assist more than 29,000 local households that access Interfaith Community Services’ food bank programs annually. About 50 percent of those served through the food bank’s distribution sites are school-age children.
“When people buy a $25 ticket to this event, they are making a huge difference in the lives of people in need. I also really like the fact that when people make a donation to ICS, 89 cents of every dollar goes directly to programs to assist people in need, including feeding the hungry, Mobile Meals, transportation and services for seniors, and much more,” said Buchanan.
Funds from the event will be key to expanding services to include a sixth food distribution site in central or south Tucson, said Deborah Carr, ICS philanthropy and public relations director.
“One in five families in Pima County struggle with food insecurity, and for many of them, one of the largest barriers to overcome in receiving food assistance is simply getting to a local food bank. That is where our mobile food pantry comes in. We are bringing food to people ,” said Carr.
The mobile food pantry, a partnership with the Community Food Bank, is a commercial-grade, refrigerated van that carries fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen foods and pantry staples to identified pockets of poverty where residents face challenges with transportation and/or mobility.
“If we provide fresh food choices and healthier food options, that can enable impoverished families to stretch their food budgets. They can use their money to pay for housing and utilities or cover medical expenses and other basic needs to help them become stabilized. … Our goal is to help people get to a place of self-reliance and independence,” said Carr.
Ultimately, services such as the mobile food pantry also aid with outreach regarding a variety of ICS wrap-around programs, including emergency financial assistance and homelessness prevention; a job resource center that helps clients attain or maintain employment; and financial literacy programs to help establish household budgets, build savings and repair credit.
A new program, Single Mom Scholars, provides services to enable low-income single mothers to graduate from college and increase their earning capacity; ICS is also growing its volunteer corps to provide additional services to aging and convalescing seniors in their homes.
Events such as Empty Bowls provide an opportunity to expand awareness about these programs and the underlying problem of food insecurity, said Jada Crellin-Ahern, who has coordinated donations of bowls for the event since its inception.
The owner of Dry Heat Pottery, Crellin-Ahern makes about 100 bowls herself for Empty Bowls, but she credits the generosity of Southern Arizona potters, artists, students and volunteers for its success.
“It is a community effort. We, as potters, feel very lucky to have this job, and I think this is our way to give back,” she said.
She also views the event as an opportunity for potters to share their passion and make handmade pieces of all shapes, sizes and colors easily accessible to the public.
“Some people may come and get their first handmade bowl at this event. Just think, you could start your collection with that piece and replace plastic with things that last a long time.
“Every bowl at this event could be on this earth longer than we are. These pieces will be around forever unless someone drops them on the floor. Isn’t that cool?” Crellin-Ahern said.