They came. They ate. They helped.
Participants in the second annual Empty Bowls Dothan Project were so eager for the event to start that they were lining up on the front steps of the Cultural Arts Center by 10:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the doors were scheduled to open. For the event’s organizers, it was a good sign that the day would be successful.
In the inaugural event last year, 220 bowls were made. They were sold out in the first hour. To avoid that problem this year, the bowl count was increased considerably; 550 handmade bowls were put on the table leading into the dining area. A majority of the bowls were purchased before 1 p.m.
Empty Bowls Dothan is based on a project that was started by a husband and wife team of potters from North Carolina. The proceeds from the sale of the bowls go specifically to hunger relief. In the case of the Dothan effort, the recipient is the Wiregrass Area United Way Food Bank.
Donna McLaney, a part-time employee/volunteer with the Pike County Salvation Army, made her second trip to the Empty Bowls Dothan event. She is also familiar with the hunger relief effort associated with the project.
“We’ve been doing the Empty Bowls Project for five years,” McLaney said. “This year’s event will be held April 11 at Bush Memorial Church in the Family Life Center. (The church is located on George Wallace Drive.) Like this one, we will hold it from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“I’m not a potter, but I have made bowls for the Troy event.”
And, she notes, the event has been very successful.
“We’ve had between one hundred to two hundred people attend,” McLaney continued. “We get bowls from the Claybank Conference. Our senior citizens donate some, and we’ve had students make them. Pike County High School’s art class has also made bowls for us. We’re holding another bowl-making day in March at the Colley Complex on Elm Street.
“The proceeds will go to our food bank (at the Salvation Army). Everything is donated. Individuals make homemade soups and desserts as well as the tea and bread. Water is also available.”
In a short amount of time, the Dothan effort has gained regional attention. McLaney says it has started out impressively.
“I like this event,” she said. “I came last year. I was able to meet (local potter) Lynn (Koning) at that time. This event is very well done. I’m impressed by the number of participants and the number of volunteers that are involved with the program.”
The volunteers, whether it is those that made the bowls or the ones serving at Saturday’s event, are the backbone of the project.
“We have the best volunteers,” said Julie Gonzalez, development director for the Food Bank. “We have 30 of them helping today. Ann Cotton (executive director of the Cultural Arts Center) and I are very fortunate to have the volunteers that we have.”
In addition to the meal that was served, the day’s activities also included a wide assortment of arts and crafts and jewelry that was on display in the facility’s auditorium. In addition to the artisans on hand, the Dothan Wiregrass Art League, housed in the CAC, opened its door for the event. Many works of art were available for purchase.
A silent auction featured handmade bowls (made by Koning) autographed by University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and Auburn University head football coach Gus Malzahn and a football autographed by Troy University head football coach Larry Blakeney.
Laura Stakelum enjoyed last year’s so much that she brought two friends – Dana Peters and Karrie Hart – with her this year.
“We all really liked getting the bowls,” Stakelum said. “I’m glad they doubled the number of bowls they had available. I also like that they added the vendors and the silent auction. They do such a great job. It’s probably my favorite fundraiser.”
“I like the variety of the bowls made by many different people,” Hart added. “It’s a wonderful way for people to be creative and help people at the same time.”
“Coming to an event like this lets you know how blessed you are,” Peters said. “This is a main meal (soup, bread, water) for some people. You don’t think, in a city the size of Dothan, that there are hungry people, but there are.”
While the dining area held a steady stream of those anxious to sample the soups that were available, many visitors/shoppers could be found in the CAC’s auditorium. It provided an opportunity for Ann Cotton to take in the buzz of activity as she welcomed the shoppers.
“This has been an exciting day,” Cotton said. “I’m thrilled with the outpouring of community support. People are here shopping. A portion of the sales by the art vendors as well as proceeds from the silent auction will come to the CAC. All of that goes back to the pottery classes for Empty Bowls 2015.”
A collaborative effort the magnitude of the Empty Bowls Dothan Project depends upon the generosity of the business community.
“We have wonderful sponsors,” Gonzalez said. “Five Star Credit Union is our main sponsor. They bought the supplies that we needed for the bowl-making events. And employees from Five Star also aided in making bowls for this event.
“We also appreciate the sponsors who provided the meal for today. Those include The Bread Lady (Juliann Black), Horton’s Honey Farm, Nantze Springs, Do or Dine Catering, The Basketcase, The Blue Plate Restaurant, Atlanta Bread Company, Zack’s, Momma Goldberg’s and the men of Episcopal Church of the Nativity.”
As the day began to wind down, Gonzalez turned her thoughts to 2015.
“We will take the rest of February off,” Gonzalez said. “Then, we will start it all again in March. We would like to double the number of bowls again next year. But that will require a lot time and volunteers to make the bowls.”
For more information about the Empty Bowls Dothan Project or to schedule a bowl-making session, call the Wiregrass Area United Way Food Bank, 794-9775, or the Cultural Arts Center, 699-2787, or visit facebook.comEmptyBowls Dothan.