Aleena Singh and other volunteers at the Waterloo Potters’ Workshop have been hard at work this week finalizing the food safety checks on 600 pottery bowls.
They’re preparing for the 25th annual Empty Bowls event, a partnership between the Waterloo Potters’ Workshop , the Food Bank of Waterloo Region and Wilfrid Laurier’s Robert Langen Art Gallery.
“We make sure that all of the bowls pass sale-level standards. So they [can’t] have any cracks, they can’t be dangerous, everything has to be sanded down, food safe,” Singh said.
She and the other potters with the workshop need to have their bowls ready to be picked up by staff with the Food Bank of Waterloo Region tomorrow (Friday).
This year the event is taking place May 31 at Lazaridis Hall on Laurier’s Waterloo campus.
For $50, guests get a one-of-a-kind bowl of their choice from which they can eat soup and bread provided by some of the best restaurants, catering companies and organizations in the region.
There are two seatings for the event, a lunch seating between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and a dinner seating from 5 to 7 p.m.
At 12:30 and 6 p.m., Métis chef Sydney Keedwell will speak about food insecurity in the community.
Last year, the event raised enough funds for more than 80,000 meals.
Members of the Waterloo Potters’ Workshop started the event 25 years ago, said Singh, the workshop coordinator for the event, noting it’s a flagship event for the co-op style organization, and extremely meaningful to many of the members.
The Waterloo Potters’ Workshop is operated completely by volunteer members. It’s not mandatory to participate in the empty bowls program, but it is highly encouraged, says Singh.
She says between 50 and 60 potters produce some 600 bowls throughout the year in advance of the event. Some donate maybe one bowl, and at least one member regularly donates more than 100.
“Everybody at the Potters’ Workshop really wants to support all the work that [the food bank] is doing in support of all the vulnerable members of our community. Just like how the Potters’ Workshop runs as a co-op style where everybody plays a role in making sure that the workshop is functioning as a whole. It kind of translates the same, where we should all be taking care of everyone in our community, and everyone in our community has a role.”
Over the years the Food Bank of Waterloo Region has taken over planning of the event.
Empty Bowls provide funds for the food bank, which in turn provides funds for other food-related organizations throughout the region. In the townships, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region supports the Wellesley Food Cupboard, the Wilmot Family Resource Centre and Woolwich Community Services, said Michelle Rickard, a spokesperson for the organization.
Rickard says as of May 15, the lunch seating is nearly sold out for the event, and there are about 100 tickets left for the dinner seating.
This year, confirmed restaurants and caterers include Caudle’s Catch Seafood, Delicious Dishes, Solé Restaurant and Wine Bar, The Wooden Boat Food Company, Wilf’s Laurier Lives Here, Aramark Laurier Food Services, Classic Indian, Foundry Tavern, Little Mushroom Catering, Red House, S and V Uptown, and the Lord of the Tacos.
The meal also includes bread and a non-alcoholic beverage. There will be vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free meal options.
“For every ticket sold, the food bank can provide 100 healthy and nutritious meals for individuals and families experiencing food insecurity in Waterloo Region. This year, we’re hoping to raise 60,000 meals for people in need,” said Rickard.
“Like other Ontario cities, food insecurity is rising rapidly in Waterloo Region, and there are no signs of it slowing down. Food banks and emergency food programs are now the norm for more individuals and families in our community.”
Rickard says the number of households in Waterloo Region that struggle to afford food is now 1 in 14, and last year that number was 1 in 20. This past March, 45 per cent more hampers were distributed in the community than at the same time last year.
In the same month, 735 unique households accessed food assistance for the first time, an increase of 89 per cent from the previous year.
“As potters, we have this amazing gift, talent, that we are working towards. Not everybody can make plates and bowls and mugs with their own hands. And so, the fact that we’re able to do that and provide these items, from which we can eat from and gather the community in this spectacular event, where we all get to enjoy a meal and all of the proceeds are going to help members of our community, I think it’s a really great gift and very meaningful for us to be able to continuously support our community in that way every year,” said Singh.