By Don Lowe 

   Providing a hot bowl of soup to those longing for a meal is a big deal for many people in Joplin, no doubt about it. 

   As Watered Gardens Ministries prepares for the 10th Annual Empty Bowls fundraiser in just a few weeks, it’s important to recognize just how big this cause is for all those involved. 

   “Empty Bowls is a unique event that brings communities together to help raise funds for local hunger relief,” explains Ruth Willoughby, director of outreach at Watered Gardens Ministries. “Patrons purchase a beautiful pottery bowl, handcrafted and donated by local artisans, and then enjoy a serving of delicious soup donated by one of the generous restaurants. 

   “Reminiscent of the soup kitchens of the 1930s, this event is a reminder that someone out there has a bowl that’s empty and they are hungry. Each bowl purchased represents 15 meals that will be provided by the receiving organizations. 

   “The bowls of soup are everything. If we don’t have bowls to sell and soup to serve, there is no event.” 

   As for how this all was initiated a decade ago, Willoughby said, “Heather Grills, owner of Phoenix Fired Art Studio in Joplin, held the first-ever Empty Bowls event in her studio in 2012. 

   “The Watered Gardens Ministries team began planning the 2019 Empty Bowls after Heather relocated to Northwest Arkansas in late 2018. We hit the ground running in early 2019 and are forever grateful to the organizations and individuals that have continued to support this event and trust it and what Heather built the first 7 years.” 

   There’s a lot that goes into getting this event ready, and it starts early. “This is a major undertaking for the planning committee and the potters all year long. 

   “The committee meets to determine the date and venue. And there are relationships to create, build and maintain in assisting the potters to make 1,000 bowls that are necessary for this event. 

   “We are always looking to add new clay artists each year. We are always looking to find additional restaurants to donate soup, volunteers to make bowl cozies, sponsorships to help with underwriting and additional non-profits to receive some of the proceeds. 

   “That’s not to mention the pre-sale period. It takes place about a month prior to event day and provides an opportunity for folks to buy their bowl in advance of the event, securing their choice of the best selection.” 

   Willoughby is clear on why this is significant for Joplin. “Scripture tells us we will always have the poor among us, and it is the role of the church to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. 

   “Empty Bowls will always be needed because it provides resources to local organizations that allow them to feed the hungry. Only when we meet the physical needs will we be able to come alongside individuals, build relationships with them and help them walk out of poverty.” 

   Ultimately, Willoughby said, “The main goal of Empty Bowls is to raise as much money as possible, providing organizations that are 100% privately funded that offer a food component in their services to feed as many people as possible until everyone who is hungry is fed. We won’t stop serving those in need. 

   “I love Empty Bowls. It’s one of the greatest pleasures of my work at the ministry. I truly enjoy connecting with the artists and creating these wonderful relationships with them as we all pursue the common goal of raising funds to offer local hunger relief.” 

Empty Bowls Fast Facts

What: Watered Gardens Ministries hosts the 10th Annual Empty Bowls Fundraiser

When: Thursday, November 17, from 11 am-6:30 pm        

Where: Empire Market in Joplin    

Why: Care for and feed the hungry       

Organizations That are Supported: Mission Joplin, We Care of the Four States, Hope Kitchen, and Watered Gardens Ministries

Sponsors: SMB Bank, Mercy Joplin, Jordan CPA Services, Mason Woodard Mortuary, Superior Steel Sales, Seward’s Insulation, Missouri Eye Institute, Joplin Greenhouse & Coffee Shop, TownePlace Suites, Joplin Empire Market, Mike Wakefield/Binky Guy and Aaron Garman/All Season’s Signs & Printing      

Potters: Brent Skinner/Skinner Pottery, Mary Strayer/North Star Pottery, Jeff Jones/The Clay Cup, Suzi Huntington/Sumaro House Design, Chris Kinney/Claybeard Studio, Josh Novak, Debbie Miller and Judie Riggen/Walnut Springs Pottery, Sandy Smith, Daria Claiborne, Sue Colgin and Angel Brame/Dragonflies and Mud Pottery

Restaurants: Granny Shaffer’s, Suzanne’s Natural Foods, Panera Bread, The Bruncheonette, Orient Express, Blackthorn Pizza, Club 609, Doug Musik, Grace Community Church, Tropicana Bar & Grill, Double D Café, Briar & Thistle, Great Western Dining, Mojoes, Club 1201, Olive Garden, Community Clinic of Joplin, Sherri Otto, Kinnaree Thai Cuisine, and Red Onion-Galena

Planning Committee: Liz Helms, Margie King, Jessica Cooper, Cheryl Gilbreath, Desiree Bridges, Jina Scott and Shirley Davidson

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