Empty Bowls

As potters spent the afternoon bent over pottery wheels at Main Street Books in downtown Hattiesburg, they were creating more than simple soup bowls.

These volunteers – including students, teachers, small business owners, a web designer, and a baker – sacrificed one Saturday afternoon in August to bring hope and help to hungry neighbors through this year's Empty Bowls event. This annual fundraiser for the Edwards Street Fellowship Center food pantry, now in its sixth year, is set for 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21.

For four hours this group sat at potter's wheels and crafted more than 100 unique bowls, some simple and others with intricate etchings or delicate fluting. At the end of the afternoon, the bowls awaited further artistry from other volunteers who would glaze and paint each handicraft, which also must be fired in the kiln.

While the purpose of Empty Bowls has remained the same through the years, each year brings new twists to keep the event fresh for patrons. A few popular features from Empty Bowls 2016 are returning. Main Street will once again be blocked off between Buschman and Walnut to allow attendees to enjoy al fresco dining, live music, and family-friendly games and activities. The meal, featuring soups, breads and desserts from more than 20 favorite Pine Belt restaurants, will be served inside GrateFull Soul, with indoor dining options also available. Last year's Empty Bowls event featured a crowd-pleasing visit from the Hattiesburg Zoo's sloth, Mo. The Zoo promises to bring another attraction this year, although the identity of the special guest remains a surprise.

Ann McCullen, executive director of Edwards Street, said a small card inserted in the gift bag with each bowl states, "May this unique, handcrafted bowl remind you of all the empty bowls in the world." According to McCullen, "That really sums up our fundraiser. More than 1,200 households across the Pine Belt depend on our food pantry every month for basic food staples. It's hard to believe there are that many 'empty bowls' in our neighborhoods and communities. But so many of us can make a difference for these hungry neighbors as we support the Empty Bowls event."

Empty Bowls is the result of hard work by dozens of volunteers who are passionate about making a difference for the less fortunate. "Diane Shepherd, co-owner of Main Street Books, remains the heart of Empty Bowls," McCullen explained. Shepherd brought the idea to the Edwards Street board of directors in 2012 due to her childhood ties with that area of Hattiesburg. Now Shepherd throws, glazes and fires bowls year round in preparation for this event. "Lots of other folks make this possible, too," added McCullen as she cited the work of co-chairs Jennifer Parsons and Vicki Taylor, the Crown Club of Hattiesburg Junior Auxiliary, and of course the generous potters and food vendors.

"Having Carmen and Grant Ford join our efforts last year by donating their space in GrateFull Soul was really a game changer. Our patrons can enjoy great food from all over Hattiesburg in one very cool space, or they can eat their meal outside in the beautiful October weather," McCullen said.

Bowls, which are $25, include a lunch of soup, bread, a dessert and Coke product. Tickets are not necessary; guests can pay by cash, check, or credit/debit card the day of the event. For more information, call Ann McCullen at Edwards Street at 601.544.6149 weekdays or Shepherd at 601-584-6960, Tuesdays-Saturdays.