You’d never know it–but John Hartom (one of the founders of Dig In Community Garden where I wwoofed last month) and his wife Lisa actually started another nonprofit that’s grown into an international organization called Empty Bowls. I’ve listened to John and his wife talk about its beginnings, seen Empty Bowls in action at the Burnsville Crafts Fair as they raised money for Dig In, and used the fund-raising idea to raise money for The Gathering Table soup kitchen in North Carolina. The cool thing about John and Empty Bowls is that he didn’t try to add layers of controls to the Empty Bowls organization or micromanage once the idea took off. He let it grow and become what it would become–The original idea was simple, and he kept it that way.
Here’s how it works: Local craftspeople, artists, students, community members, teachers, etc. create bowls and sell tickets to a simple meal of soup and bread. Guests are asked to keep their bowl from the meal as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. All that Empty Bowls asks is that each group organizing an event maintain a high level of integrity and design it around the needs of their own community, use the Empty Bowls name so that the idea may spread, include an educational component to raise awareness, and give the money raised to an organization helping to feed people in need. You can also sell the actual Empty Bowls themselves at crafts fairs and the like with all proceeds going to hunger fighting organizations. Empty Bowls has raised millions for hunger combating organizations all over the United States and in over 12 countries. My last day at Dig In, John welcomed me into his and Lisa’s studios (they are both artists) and then took me to Penland School of Crafts to show me around and buy me a Penland Gingerade (yum). Walking around Penland, we passed a girl wearing an “Empty Bowls” Tshirt. John asked, “Hey, where’d you get that Empty Bowls shirt?” The girl got so excited and started talking all about how she had been part of this pottery class and student group during college in New Hampshire that held Empty Bowls fundraisers every year to support local food pantries. It was just great to watch John smile as the girl told her story and then introduce himself and share with her how he’d started Empty Bowls back in the day. Loved it.
CNN profiled John and Empty Bowls last year. The event featured was held at the same church in Burnsville, NC that houses the Good Eats! Soup Kitchen which uses produce from Dig In Community Garden where I was wwoofing.
Check it out: CNN Your World