Empty Bowls: The People that Make It Happen

Empty Bowls: The People that Make It Happen

Mountain Communities Come Together to Address Food Insecurity

Image courtesy of DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore

Image courtesy of DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore

This year marks MANNA’s 15th Empty Bowls fundraiser, one of two major fundraisers held every year to help support our daily activities of sourcing, warehousing, and distributing food across Western North Carolina. This unique event unites community, art, food and collaboration while bringing awareness to the very real problem of hunger. Empty Bowls attendees choose a bowl handmade by local artisans and enjoy a meal of soup, bread, and dessert. The souvenir bowl they take home reminds them of all the empty bowls in the world. Every dollar raised at the event goes directly to support our food distribution program.

If you know much about special events planning, then you know what a large undertaking an event like this can be; thousands of hours of planning, preparation, and work go into each event, and like everything else here at MANNA, we can’t do it alone. A huge community of folks come together every year to make sure this event is a success, and we want to give you a look at who is behind the success of our annual Empty Bowls fundraiser.

A Place at the Table: DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore

DoubleTree byHilton_Our great friends at DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore have been long-time supporters of Empty Bowls, hosting the event in their ballroom for over a decade. They set up tables, organize restaurants, provide food from their own kitchen, and have staff on hand to help out with any event tasks – all things that go above a beyond their basic support of providing the biggest piece of the puzzle, which is the place!

“We look forward to hosting Empty Bowls each year and connecting with the Asheville community,” says Robert Foster, General Manager for DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore.

The DoubleTree has hosted the lunch portion of this event for the last 11 years, helping us raise enough money to provide over 1,175,000 meals in the last ten years. While the need for this amount of food in our area is an ongoing concern, MANNA continues to work hard toward ending hunger in WNC with the help of incredible community members like the folks at DoubleTree.

But this year, the DoubleTree is taking their dedication to the WNC community one step further: DoubleTree by Hilton is doubling down on the work to end hunger by hosting both the lunch and dinner portions of the event. This has enabled us to sell more tickets to the dinner event, and thus expand the fundraising potential for Empty Bowls! This is very exciting for us at MANNA; we see the need for food increasing every year throughout our area, and that means we need to also support this increased need with more funding. DoubleTree is helping to make that happen.

It Takes a Team

As if over a decade of support isn’t enough, DoubleTree does more to end hunger than hosting Empty Bowls. DoubleTree employees are inspired to help out, too.

“Throughout the years, our relationship with MANNA FoodBank has evolved from host of Empty Bowls, to having our employees volunteer at their on-site operations, and now to our Feed a Family program during the holidays,” Foster says, noting that their engagement with MANNA continues to deepen.

Robert says that this is because everyone at DoubleTree understands the importance of community involvement, and has worked hard to build a strong partnership with area community service organizations like MANNA.

“When you ask employees to become involved in the community, you hope the outcome is beneficial to all involved,” Foster says. “As owners and employers, it makes us proud to say that our team members are not just MANNA volunteers, but we are all a part of the MANNA family.”

Setting the Table: The WNC Artisans, Potters & Makers

Lori Theriault, a resident potter in Asheville’s River Arts District, is no stranger to hunger initiatives.

“I have always been involved in hunger-related organizations,” Lori 109Theriault says, ” whether cooking in a soup kitchen or preparing meals for delivery to home-bound and elderly residents. When I moved to Asheville, I found Empty Bowls while I was in my clay Residency at Odyssey Studios.” She took a class that was completely dedicated to making bowls for the event, and it was there that she met John Hartom, who, with his wife Lisa Blackburn, co-created the Empty Bowls concept. Now, over 25 years later, Empty Bowls events happen in communities across the country as a vehicle to raise money to address hunger.

“[When I met John], it was a perfect fit,” Theriault recalls. “I assisted and even co-taught subsequent Empty Bowls pottery classes, and when I left Odyssey and opened my own studio, I held [workshops] where members of the public could decorate bowls for the event.” Over the years, Lori has made hundreds of bowls, and helped to coordinate and secure donations from other potters, student potters, and the general public. “This year we have our entire studio involved in making bowls!” she exclaims.

Lori is one of dozens of local artists that have helped MANNA’s Empty Bowls event grow to what it is now, fifteen years in: Over 1,000 attendees, thousands of handmade bowls, and a Collector’s Corner market where guests can purchase higher-end pottery.

Filling the Bowls: The WNC Food Scene

Of course, no Empty Bowls event would be complete without 045what actually goes into the bowl: The soup! Every year, chefs from all over WNC bring their best recipes to help fill attendees’ bowls: farm to table soups, stews, chilis, bone broths, cold soups, and more are the featured flavors. We have even had dessert soups!

Food for a Good Cause: The food scene in WNC comes together to support our mission—and help people across WNC that need their bowls filled—by donating the food, providing the serving staff, and filling out the meal with delicious breads, biscuits, and desserts. These incredible donations help MANNA keep event costs low, and ensure that every single dollar raised at the event is going straight to our food distribution programs. Because of these incredible restaurant sponsors, the event sponsors, our sponsor host, and our incredible bowl makers, we can continue to provide three meals for every $1 donated. 

“I think people should attend this event because it is a powerful way to make a significant difference in people’s lives” Theriault says. “You never know who is facing hunger, and one person can’t fix it all, but as a community we can make great steps to help each other…Empty Bowls is a perfect example of a grass-roots effort that works.”

Empty Bowls 2016 Sponsors

Patron Sponsors

Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort - Manna Food Bank SponsorDoubleTree byHilton_highwaterclaylogo


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Mast General StoreDixon Hughes GoodmanMike Brown SubaruMountain 2 SeaLamar_Advertising_Company[1]


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