Empty Bowls Are Going to ‘Live a Life of Their Own’

A group of school districts, colleges and universities reunite on the West Texas Food Bank fundraiser Empty Bowls.

Plans are to hold it — in person — from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 6 in the courtyard of the Mesa Building on the University of Texas Permian Basin campus.

The event is usually held in January and all proceeds go to the food bank.

UTPB associate professor of art Chris Stanley engraves a swirl pattern in an unbaked bowl to start an empty bowl decorating session with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Young Women youth group at the UTPB Nancy Fyfe Cardozier Gallery Wednesday evening. The fundraiser for Permian Basin Empty Bowls in aid of the West Texas Food Bank will be held this year on March 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the UTPB Mesa Building Courtyard. (Eli Hartman/Odessa American)

Chris Stanley, associate professor of art, is a founding member of Empty Bowls. He said being back at UTPB means the circle is complete.

The past few years have been challenging due to COVID. Stanley added that he is “super excited” that UTPB is defending the event this year.

“Each college/university targets about 300 bowls, so we’ve already made our 300 bowls at UTPB. We’re in the process of finalizing them because we want to have a bit of a head start on the game so we can react in any situation. So we’re now hosting some bowl decorating events because the bowls are already made,” he said.

Several organizations have volunteered to help. The women’s group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was supposed to help on January 19.

In addition, area schools have come on board, as well as Permian High School.

“… So it grows outside of itself and as kind of the original person who put the seed in the ground here with that core group of students who did it, it’s just absolutely wonderful to… sit back. Now we get calls from people who want to help us and so we have built that positive reputation for the project. … It has been a real pleasure for me over the past few years. It was so easy to make the bowls because we don’t have to worry about decorating them because we have groups of people who want to come and help. To me, it’s really what Empty Bowls is about. It’s about bringing the community together to work to end hunger — something we all know will be impossible — but at least people are willing to break a sweat to… … make it work,” said Stanley.

He has put 22 years of his life into the project.

“… In a strange way it has come to define part of my essence. I don’t know what a year would look like if we didn’t glaze and shell in a cyclical way,” said Stanley.

Monica Jackman, left, helps Halee Jackson, 10, decorate her bowl while their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Young Women youth group helps prepare for the Permian Basin Empty Bowls fundraiser at the UTPB Nancy Fyfe Cardozier Gallery Wednesday night. (Eli Hartman/Odessa American)

The project is now taking on a life of its own and many of its former students, their parents and even grandparents have been part of it.

Stanley described it as “incredibly humble”.

“That’s what you hope as a teacher is that the message will resonate for generations…,” he added.

Director of Marketing and Communications Craig Stoker said Empty Bowls is a great outdoor event.

“…We were talking about a space big enough to have him. We still wanted to do it outside. … No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone two months from now. But that also gives us some cover in case there’s wind. If it’s really nice, we can go to the deck. But I doubt we’ll do that,” Stoker said.

“I’ve been to several things that UTPB does. They’ve had football gigs there and stuff. It’s a great space. What we decided to do is that the event has really gotten too big for what we can accommodate here (at the food bank), so we wanted to find a space that was big enough. Surprisingly, and to my knowledge, the party has never taken place on any of the campuses and they are the ones making all the bowls…,” he added.

When Odessa College announced plans for a multi-purpose area downtown, Stoker said he was considering moving the event from UTPB to Midland College and then to Odessa College.

“It allows the colleges to really emphasize what their role is and what they’ve put into it. We’re in 22nd (year) and without what they’ve done this event wouldn’t exist,” Stoker said.

Halee Jackson, 10, is blowing dust from her engravings as she helps decorate bowls for the Permian Basin Empty Bowls fundraiser at the UTPB Nancy Fyfe Cardozier Gallery Wednesday night with her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints youth group. (Eli Hartman/Odessa American)

He added that it would also give high school students, for example, a chance to see what a college campus looks like.

Empty Bowls is a partnership of several colleges, universities, districts, and private schools.

“And what they do is they make the bowls. There are local artists throwing the bowls. … The dishes go to other partners to be glazed. They could go to the Boys and Girls Club, or the Ellen Noël Art Museum, and have the bowls glazed that way; then they go back to UTPB,” Stoker said.

He added that UTPB and Midland College have the big ovens where they bake the bowls. The bowls are donated to the food bank and they throw a party where the bowls are sold for $15 each.

“…We work with local restaurants to deliver the soup and other food in bowls. And thanks to a very generous… donation from HEB, we are able to have 100% of the event donated,” said Stoker.

People get to keep the bowls they bought.

“You can definitely buy more than one. There is definitely a following. People wait for empty bowls to make sure they get them. There are several that have a scale of each of the events,” he said.

The public can throw the bowls, but there are more options for glazing them. From 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 3, people can decorate bowls for empty bowls at Crockett Middle School.

Crockett buys about 200 ready-made bowls. The hope is that teams of parents and their children will decorate them.

Usually they have a big silent auction with pieces by local artists that help generate income as all of those proceeds are donated to the food bank.

Since they don’t have a signature event, this “sort of takes its place”. But they also have a golf tournament and clay shoot, which is May 26, as fundraisers.

Stoker said he expects between 400 and 600 people at Empty Bowls.

“There’s no right way to tell. It seems like everything I’ve been to is really well attended. People are just ready to do things… back to normal. That was also one of the reasons we wanted it to be big… We’re doing it during the spring break of UTPB, so that we have the full parking lot and the campus has to be fairly empty. But … I think if we can get 600 people there, that would be great,” Stoker said.

There will be VIP tables for $500 each with seating for eight. This gives you the choice of the oven, dishes that the artists have chosen. They have their own feeding line so they don’t have to wait in the big line.

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