Feature Stories

Share this Story

Much More Than a Meal

Annual Empty Bowls Charity Dinner brings community together to combat hunger

University News | March 8, 2019

Guests at the 21st Annual Empty Bowls Charity Dinner will warm their bellies with a simple meal - freshly prepared soup and bread. But more importantly, they’ll leave knowing that they’ve contributed to a worthy cause – alleviating hunger in our community.

This year’s Empty Bowls event will be held in Virginia Wesleyan’s Boyd Dining Center on Friday, March 15, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Organized locally by the Ceramic Designers Association (CDA), the popular affair has been hosted by Virginia Wesleyan for 20 of the 21 years it has been in existence in the Hampton Roads community.

The Empty Bowls project is an international grassroots movement held annually in many communities to help raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger. The very first local Empty Bowls Charity Dinner was in 1998 at Holy Family Catholic Church. Needing a larger venue, in March1999, the event moved to Virginia Wesleyan for the first time, thanks to the efforts of alumna Susan Alexander Mizell '80, and it has been an annual happening ever since.

In addition to providing the venue, Virginia Wesleyan arranges for volunteers for the event and participation from the campus community.  

Professor of Art Phil Guilfoyle, a member of CDA, structures his Ceramics II course so that students create and donate their handmade pottery bowls to the event. Guilfoyle donates more than 25 of his own creations, in addition to donating his works to the silent auction and providing potter wheel demonstrations at the event in prior years.

“We look forward to hosting Empty Bowls on our campus each year,” says Guilfoyle. “This event is much more than a meal. In addition to showcasing the talents of local artisans, including VWU students, it brings people together to support local community organizations in raising awareness and money for combatting hunger.”

Guilfoyle and his students are collectively contributing more than 75 of the bowls for this year’s event. VWU senior Kwonsha Washington, a psychology major minoring in art, is in Guilfoyle's Ceramics II class this semester.

"This craft takes a lot of patience," noted Washington, who has made five bowls to donate to the event, "but it is really worth it."

“Through this annual project, the students are learning a skill that they can apply to help someone else,” says Guilfoyle. “They can use their talents to support a vital cause and help serve those in need in our community.”

Guilfoyle says that he also recently hosted a “bowl roll” for students and members of the CDA. Participants “threw” bowls on potter’s wheels in preparation for the March 15 event.

“My students start to prepare early in the semester, as the ceramic process is a lengthy one,” continues Guilfoyle. “From forming the clay, drying and trimming it, to bisque-firing the newly created bowl for 11-12 hours to set it up to accept glaze, the process then requires an additional nine hours of glaze-firing and then cooling for another 24 hours. Much love and labor goes into each creation.”

As in years past, the first stop for guests at the event is the empty bowls room where hundreds of donated handmade ceramic bowls made by local artists are displayed. The roomful of empty bowls serves as a reminder that around the world, and in our own community, there are bowls that go empty, people who are hungry. It is there that attendees begin their treasure hunt for just the right bowl—one they will take home that evening.

As attendees wait in line for soup, they have opportunities to view pottery demonstrations and make their first bids in the silent art auction, comprised of works donated largely by the talented members of CDA. As the event nears to a close, the bowls still available go on sale for attendees to purchase.

Sodexo Food Service at Virginia Wesleyan generously donates all of the ingredients and prepares all of the soups. They also organize and supervise the volunteers who serve and clean up during and after the event. The company’s charitable arm, the Sodexo Foundation, is committed to being a driving and creative force that contributes to a hunger-free nation.

On the menu for this year’s event is Virginia Wesleyan Chowder, Turkey Chili, and Minestrone.

"We value this opportunity to share our resources and raise awareness about hunger in our community,” noted Tim Lockett, general manager of dining services at VWU. “The proceeds go directly back to the local organizations that will have an immediate impact on families in need. The long-standing partnership with the University, the Ceramic Designers Association, and Sodexo has been very successful, and we look forward to another great year."

Several other community organizations donate their time, talents, and resources as well. Virginia Beach Garden Clubs provide the flower arrangements at the tables and local musicians offer entertainment during dinner. Other local sponsors include Baker’s Crust, The Fresh Market, Mancon, Tidewater Turners, and All Hands Pottery Studio.

All funds raised benefit local charities such as the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, Help and Emergency Response, Inc., Oasis Social Ministries, Samaritan House, and Union Mission Ministries.

Tickets for Empty Bowls are available in numerous locations throughout the community, including the Scribner University Store on campus. Tickets are $25 in advance; $30 at the door.

For more information, visit www.cdava.com.