Empty food bowl project fills foodbank

Feb. 28, the Westmoreland County Food Bank held its second annual Empty Bowl Project. Participants gathered in St. Bruno’s Parish Hall in Greensburg.

By Sarah Last

Staff Writer

Feb. 28, the Westmoreland County Food Bank held its second annual Empty Bowl Project. Participants gathered in St. Bruno’s Parish Hall in Greensburg.

Participants selected a handmade piece of pottery and filled each one with soup, bread, a cookie, and drinks. Local restaurants donated all of the food. After getting their food, the partakers then enjoyed entertainment from performing arts organizations such as the Laurel Youth Ballet, Stage Right and a special visit from Red Robin’s mascot-Red.

The Empty Bowl project all started with 1972 Seton Hill (SHU) graduate, Karen Piper: a heart transplant patient who experienced a similar event in Pittsburgh and decided to start one in Westmoreland County. Piper recounted her tale of how her time in the hospital had led to the discovery of the Empty Bowl Project:

“I was in the hospital having a heart transplant in Sept of 2007. Before the transplant, I had trouble concentrating on anything due to the lack of blood flow. After the heart, I began asking my husband for reading material. He brought me a Post Gazette in which I read about the Empty Bowl Project in Pittsburgh that raised $25,000 in its 13th year. I was amazed and cut out the article and saved it for when I started to think about giving back to the world for all that I have been given – the special gift of life.”

She continued, “About 10 months later when I felt much better, I pulled out the article and decided, after some research, that this is what I wanted to do to give back.”

It began with a group of her friends, family, and fellow churchgoers who wanted to help the local community. The first time this event took place on March 1, 2009. Participants raised about $3,000.

This past year, Empty Bowl had a rough sum of $10,000 that was donated to the food bank. According to Westmoreland County Food Bank worker, Jennifer Miller, the Empty Bowl project is a true fundraiser. Groups of volunteers ranging from middle school kids to college students to adults, all want to become part of the effort to eradicate local hunger. All of the restaurants and pottery stores donated materials needed to make the event as successful as possible. The funds come back to the food bank in order to feed those in need all around the county.

“I never worked for the Food Bank at all, in fact when I first contacted them and said I wanted to do this project they were hesitant. Jennifer told me that it sounded good but I had to know that they could not have their staff do the project; I had to do it myself. I said I would, so they approved the project,” Piper said.

“The entire project is amazing,” said Miller. “It is truly a display of unselfishness. We can guarantee that hard work is put to good use among those who volunteered.”

Renee Howard, owner of Pottery Playhouse, one of the stores that supplied pottery bowls, said that many different groups participated in the event by painting bowls.

Howard felt that snowy weather inhibited more people from coming. However, the pottery shop did experience a flurry of 150 people stopping in to buy and paint bowls. Many groups from Westmoreland County came in to offer their bowl making services including middle school students, families and other various assemblies. Some people even come in more than once.

“The wonderful event provides a lot of support from a lot of people,” said Howard “Empty Bowl raised a lot more money for the food bank so that many people have food and don’t have to go hungry.”

Empty Bowl connects those in the area who are in need and offers services to an organization which helps accomplish great things, not only in Westmoreland County, but wherever help is needed. According to Westmoreland County Food Bank’s website, 27 percent of its clients are under the age of 18, 13 percent are seniors, 1 percent are homeless, and about 27 percent have less than a high school degree. The food bank is a non- profit organization that serves about 7,000 families in need of food and other services. It has done tremendous work for its community over the years with soup kitchens, childcare programs, emergency shelters and other means of help.