Filling the Bowl

By: Margaret Butler

Flat Rock’s call to fight hunger includes a nod to local ceramic artists

Travis Berning hops on the wheel to help out.
Photo by Margaret Butler

It starts with a lump of clay thrown onto Travis Berning’s wheel. Shaped, sanded, glazed, and fired for a total of 19 hours, it emerges as a work of art. But this bowl won’t be showcased in a gallery. The vessel will continue a legacy set by a group of Michigan high-school students in 1990. Their goal? Serve soup in simple ceramic bowls to remind guests of the hunger that millions of Americans experience daily. 

This year, Berning and 20-plus other participating potters will craft handmade bowls to donate to Saint John in the Wilderness’s annual Empty Bowls event to benefit the Flat Rock Backpack Program. The potter has donated to Empty Bowls events for more than 30 years. “It’s a great cause. If you can donate a little bit of time and materials to raise money to feed hungry kids — it’s pretty amazing,” reflects Berning. 

The Flat Rock Backpack Program’s labor of love combines the efforts of more than 25 community volunteers. Every Friday morning during the school year, rain or shine, participants gather at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse to fill 100-125 grocery bags with purchased and donated food items. Working with an annual fund of $22,000, they strive to fill each bag with nutritional items such as oatmeal, tinned meat, rice, pasta, beans, vegetables, and fruit. After the bags are packed, volunteers deliver them to seven local educational facilities. On Friday afternoons, teachers then discreetly distribute the bags to students in need.

Debbie Staton, a retired Hendersonville educator of 21 years, knows that “kids learn best when they have a full belly.” The local coordinator of the Backpack Program, Staton embraced local potter David Voorhees’ idea to introduce the Empty Bowls event to the Flat Rock community five years ago. “When there is a need, we will do whatever we can to fill it,” Staton states. The annual event typically brings in more than half of the funds needed for the packed food for the year. This year, the event hopes to raise over $12,000 to benefit the Flat Rock Backpack Program. 

“When you walk away from the event with your bowl, you’ll remember the need and how you helped fill it,” Staton notes. 

The 5th Annual Empty Bowls Event happens Sunday, April 24. Three seatings — 12:30, 5, and 6 pm — will be held in the Parish Hall of The Episcopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness (1905 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock). Admission is $25 per person or $50 for a family of two adults and children under 12; each ticket includes one hand-crafted bowl and a selection of soups paired with bread and desserts donated by local businesses and organizations. Tickets are available at the parish office or from any member of the Backpack Program. For more information, call 828-693-9783 or visit (also Flat Rock Backpack Program on Facebook).

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