Empty Bowls Festival kicks off - partial provider for the local food bank, Community Cupboard


The 2019 Empty Bowls Glazing Days were well attended, and a wonderful way for old and new friends to connect and create (Photo credit: Linda Claeson)

The 2019 Empty Bowls Glazing Days were well attended, and a wonderful way for old and new friends to connect and create (Photo credit: Linda Claeson)

    Located just a hop, jump and a skip away from downtown Leavenworth is the well known and appreciated staple in the community - the Community Cupboard, the local food bank. The annual fundraiser, Empty Bowls Festival - that's been a yearly provider for helping fund the Community Cupboard and simultaneously being an event for locals to contribute to their neighbors in need for 20 plus years - has begun.
    "Empty Bowls is the largest fundraiser for the Community Cupboard food bank," said Community Cupboard program manager, Bob Mark. "The Empty Bowls festival is a nationwide festival, it does various forms throughout the country. In general it's a fundraiser for food banks and to bring awareness to people hungry in the community."  
    As of January 25, the annual Empty Bowls Festival 2019 kicked off with the first Glazing Day and the glazing continued until Tuesday, January 29 in the Woodpecker Room at the Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort. The festival stretches on from now until March 21 with the Community Soup Supper. Upper Valley Mend sponsors the Empty Bowls Festival with an army of over 100 volunteers extending helping hands as well.
    "It's really such a labor of love. There's so many volunteers that put this thing together; from the Empty Bowls committee to the potters to the restaurants to the bakeries, all the folks that come together," said Mark. "I think it just goes to show the type of support that there is in this community for feeding their community."
    The benefits from the donations that are pulled from the Empty Bowls Festival are paid forward to the fellow community members and residents that are in need of a little extra help. In 2018, the Community Cupboard helped feed a total of 1,045 households and total number of individuals served was 2,586.
    "It's not an easy thing to use the food bank, it's a humbling experience for a lot of folks. So making it as easy as possible with as much choice as possible I think is helpful and I think we're doing a good job of that," said Mark.
    2018 brought a lot of changes forward for the Community Cupboard; its sister entity, Das Thrift Haus, moved into its own location and the food bank made the transition into a new format for those who use its services. According to Bob Mark, around April and May 2018 the Community Cupboard left behind the former food box style for families and started a point system. Points are allocated based on size of household and then the families or individual are free to use their points sporadically, all at once or however they chose to distribute their points over the course of a month.
    The point system gives the food bank more of a shopping feel and allows families and individuals to have a wider range of freedom for their grocery selections.
    "Its (the new format) is working out great. We're still tweaking things until we find that sweet spot, but its almost there I think. The usage for the food bank has went up considerably since we started using this new shopping model style. I think its much easier and more inviting experience for people to use the food bank, there's a lot more choice and autonomy involved with the food you want to pick," said Mark.     
    The appeal of being able to come and go throughout the month at one's own leisure on the basis of how many points are left seems to have lured in more families and individuals to make use of the local food bank.
    "When we did make the switch (to the point system) in April/May, the numbers just started going up from there. We were averaging somewhere just over 200 boxes per month at the end of last year and now we're up to 360 families served per month," said Mark. "I think that the fact that numbers have gone up so much since we did switch over, I think it shows there's really a demand for a food bank in this community. And its a growing need."
    Whether its a point system or a food box, the Community Cupboard and Upper Valley Mend work hard to ensure the Upper Valley community isn't left hungry. With the help of the Empty Bowls Festival, the Community Cupboard continues to be a pillar of paying it forward to locals.
    "The Empty Bowls Festival is really important for us because it raises a lot of money for our food bank. In fact, about half of our food bank budget is raised through the Empty Bowls Festival so we'd be in really tough shape with this festival," said Mark.  
    
 

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