A bowl of soup, and a chance for compassion

A bowl of soup, and a chance for compassion

Potters in New York handcraft bowls for the Catholic Charities Empty Bowls Luncheon. Courtesy photo.
Potters in New York handcraft bowls for the Catholic Charities Empty Bowls Luncheon. Courtesy photo.

.- For nearly 15 years, a Catholic charity in south-central New York has sold ceramic bowls to raise both money for a local food pantry and awareness about the problem of homelessness in the region.

Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler Counties held its 14th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon on Oct. 15, inviting donors to eat soup and hear the stories of homelessness.

Lindsay Baker, director of development for Catholic Charities in the area told CNA that the project informs people on poverty statistics and provides them with a souvenir bowl as a reminder of all the “empty bowls in the community.”

The project is a major event for the region. Local artists, including high-schoolers and students and faculty from nearby Elmira College, handcraft commemorative bowls for the luncheon.

“[We partner] with our local potters. They create commemorative bowls for each participant to take home with them. It’s meant to be a reminder of hunger in the community,” Baker said.

Most of the bowls are made by professional artisans, like Gene Carr, a local artist who helps each year with the pottery. Bowls are also made by two Elmira professors - Doug Holtgrewe, a former teacher of ceramic, and Chris Longwell, a professor of art. This year, they made more than 200 bowls for the event.

Participants choose a custom-created bowl when they enter the luncheon, and are served soup from a local deli.

“The idea is that you are satisfied but you are not stuffed. It’s a hunger awareness event so you may not leave extremely full, but people leaving the soup kitchen don’t always leave full too,” Baker told CNA.

During the event, those who have been homeless, or whose family members have been homeless, tell their stories.

Baker recalled one year when a woman shared the story of her son, who had been in a homeless shelter and addicted to heroin.

“She talked about the struggle she went through and how Catholic Charities met him where he is at and how is on a much better path,” she said.

She said the testimonies are a cause for personal reflection, but they can also be fun.

During lunch this year, Baker will read three testimonies from community members who have struggled with poverty. After the three people gather on stage, the crowd will guess which story belongs to whom.

She said the testimonies emphasize the work of Catholic Charities and the success of people who have overcome homelessness. She said stories help contextualize the reality of poverty because the testimonies are from ordinary people in the local community.

“I think this is one of the few events that highlight that it can happen to anybody. We have community members, we have volunteers, we have donors who will share their story. It’s not just somebody else’s problem. It’s actual human beings you can see.”

Proceeds go to the Samaritan Center, an emergency shelter and a food pantry for homeless families and individuals.

Baker said the event also promotes mental healthcare and awakens people to a reality which is often neglected.

“I think people are kind of numb to the reality of what life is like for some people,” she said. “[This event], in a nice way, slaps them in the face and tells them what life is like. People really leave moved. They have a better appreciation for what is going on behind the scenes.”

An earlier version of this article was published on CNA Sept. 14, 2019.

Tags: Catholic Charities, Catholic News, Homelessness