Empty Bowls Dinner: You'll fill up and help the hungry

Some 19 years ago, Squirrel Hill native Ann Roth was inspired to make a difference. She's the former owner of Roth Carpet, now president of Ross Commercial Floors. Her sister told her about a fundraiser called Empty Bowls. Intrigued, she decided to organize one in Pittsburgh. "I wanted to show my kids that everyone doesn't have bread on their plate."

The premise of Empty Bowls is to bring attention to hunger and help people give back to others. For a donation, you receive a handcrafted bowl and a simple, meager meal of soup and bread. You take the bowl home where it serves to remind you of all who are hungry. The idea was crafted in 1991 by art teacher and potter, John Hartom at Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Similar events are now held throughout the country and they've raised millions of dollars to fight hunger.

The first Pittsburgh Empty Bowls event was March 10, 1996, at Sacred Heart Church Elementary School in Shadyside. "During an ice storm," said Ms. Roth. "People were lined up outside the doors. We raised $6,800."

Now in its 19th year, Empty Bowls will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 2, at Rodef Shalom Congregation. "Full disclosure, I'm the president," said Ms. Roth. They sponsor the event, provide space at no charge and organize a children's bake sale, which garners about $2,500.

New this year is a coffee- and espresso bar donated and staffed by Bean Catering. Your donation buys a handmade bowl donated by a local potter or school, with unlimited soup and bread, donated by area eateries. There is soup to go, including a kosher one, plus celebrity servers (one is Mayor Bill Peduto) and roving musicians. A silent auction offers celebrity-autographed bowls and other pottery.

For the past five years, Empty Bowl's average proceeds ranged from $50,000 to $55,000, with monies going to Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Just Harvest. Ms. Roth is having a little competition with her sister's group in Bloomington, Ind., to see who can raise the most money. Yet foremost in her mind is not who takes in more money, but this statistic from Feeding America: "One in five kids go hungry." Tickets for Empty Bowls are $20 and sold on-line or at the door. For more information, go to pittsburghfoodbank.org.

Miriam Rubin (mmmrubin@)gmail.com).


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