DP – Soup’s on: Luncheon Saturday

Jim Bissett

The Dominion Post

Getting people to spoon out dollars for worthy causes is a familiar recipe for Frances Smith.

That’s what she did for 28 years as a grant-writing specialist at WVU, and that’s what she’s doing now as a volunteer at Empty Bowls Monongalia, the organization that fights hunger across the county in a way that’s verbal, visual and savory — all at once.

Empty Bowls wages that fight by way of bowls, that, well, are empty at first. That’s in terms of their design and the delectable soup recipes they eventually hold.

Here’s how it works, if you aren’t familiar: Volunteers get together at pottery and ceramics studios to make bowls which are then painted in one-of-a-kind designs — everyone from nursery school youngsters to senior citizens get in on the act.

For a minimum donation of $15, you can buy a bowl, and fill it with a delicious soup at the annual Empty Bowls Soup and Bread Luncheon.

This year’s event will be from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Hazel and J.W. Ruby Community Center at Mylan Park, where soups from chicken noodle to lemongrass and tofu will be yours for the spooning.

“The soups are always delicious,” Smith said. “And you get to take the bowl home with you. That’s the beauty of it.”

And that, Smith said, is because that bowl ends up in your cupboard. And when you open said cupboard every day — which you will, Smith said — you’ll see that bowl.

“And then you’ll be reminded about what Empty Bowls is about,” she said.

Empty Bowls, said Corey Farris, a WVU dean who chairs the organization’s board, isn’t just about filling bellies at a social gathering.

It’s about opening eyes, he said, to a need that you might not think is present in a county like Monongalia, which is a little more prosperous than most of its neighbors in the state.

Every dollar next weekend’s event drops into the bowl goes right back in the community, Farris said, to fund food pantries, backpack nutrition programs for students from needy families, and more.

And, he said, there’s a need for every dollar.

According to numbers culled by the Empty Bowls organization, more than 2,500 school children across Monongalia County are “food insecure,” meaning that, nutritionally speaking, they simply, and literally, don’t get enough to eat.

And more than 30 percent of children here qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at school because of their household income, he said.

“You just have to shake your head,” he told The Dominion Post earlier.

“Look at WVU and all the businesses and professional people we have here. We’re better off than most counties and our kids still go hungry.”

Being clinically hungry, Smith said, puts a stomach-growl on lots of pursuits.

“If a kid is hungry, it affects his education,” she said. “If a kid is hungry, it affects his development. Everything suffers.”

For the annual luncheon, she said, it seems like everyone steps up to the plate — er, ah, bowl.

Last year, she said, Empty Bowls luncheon-goers ladled out more than $89,000 for the cause.

This year’s goal is $125,000, she said.

“People are generous,” she said. “I know we can do it.”

To learn more about Empty Bowls Monongalia, visit the organization’s web site: ebmon.org.