Hope-Full

Empty Bowls raises money for RI Food Bank – and showcases both artists and chefs

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“I think the metaphor is really nice,” says Kelly Seigh, event manager for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. “We’re helping fill bowls in the community. It’s a kind of reminder.”

The idea is catchy: Ceramic artists donate nearly 1,000 clay bowls to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. On October 17, more than 800 people will show up at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston, along with 40 local restaurateurs. Each visitor will pick a preferred bowl, fill it with gourmet samples, and have a total blast. For five years, the Empty Bowls party has been the Food Bank’s most lucrative fundraiser.

Kelly didn’t invent Empty Bowls, but she introduced the concept to Rhode Island, and the party has been a raging success since its inception. “We went big from the very first year,” she says. “There are just so many artists and restaurants that are donating their time. There’s so much good buzz in the room. We want this to be an event that anybody can come to.”

Excitement builds long before the actual celebration. Ceramic artist John Mitchell has hosted “Empty Bowl parties” at Dew Claw Studios in Pawtucket, where crafters shape artisanal bowls specifically for the event; other ateliers do the same. Similarly, chefs were originally asked to make different kinds of soup and stews, but the menu quickly expanded to pasta, ribs, bread pudding, mac and cheese, donuts, and cupcakes, among countless other items.

Basic admission (booked in advance) is only $50, which means unlimited food and a one-of-a-kind ceramic bowl for each participant. There is a VIP table, where some of the more elaborate objets d’art are displayed, but Kelly says that there is plenty of creativity to browse. The Food Bank also has a number of sponsors, including Citizens Bank, which provides “a small army of volunteers.” Last year, the a total of $117,000 was raised.

Ironically, Kelly herself has never walked away with a bowl, because she’s so busy organizing. “But my friends come every year,” she says. “Whenever I go to their house, I see their collection of bowls.” Empty Bowls takes place October 17 at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, Cranston.