The Bowl and the Backpack

A parable of giving plays out in Flat Rock

David Voorhees leads the local Empty Bowls initiative, and Honey Burrell is one of its enthusiastic contributors. 
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

The urge to fill an empty bowl is nearly irresistible, and what better to fill it with than hot soup to ward off the early spring chill? It’s even more satisfying when such comfort food helps children in need enjoy similarly nourishing meals — the goal of this month’s Empty Bowls event to benefit the Flat Rock Backpack Program.

And it’s not just any old bowls that will grace tables at St. John in the Wilderness, but handcrafted bowls made in the kilns of more than two dozen local potters, including the event’s leader, potter David Voorhees, and another contributing ceramicist, Honey Burrell, both of Zirconia. “I’ve volunteered with the organizing and planning of the MANNA Foodbank’s Empty Bowls event for many years, and saw it was time to get an event going in my own town,” Voorhees says. 

That was four years ago. Last year, more than 40 potters contributed their bowls, along with several schools that contributed bowls made by students. “Area potters have been extremely generous with their donations of more than a thousand bowls over the years,” Voorhees notes. The Empty Bowls event in Flat Rock is one of hundreds of such events organized around the world each year by artists and students, and began in 1990 when a group of high-school students in Michigan made ceramic bowls and used them to serve simple meals, allowing each guest to keep the bowl as a reminder of the hunger that is a daily experience for millions of people.

The Flat Rock event’s partnership with the Flat Rock Backpack Program grew out of past years’ Open Studio events in Hendersonville, which included a raffle to benefit the backpack program. “I saw what important and dedicated work they were doing and suggested the Empty Bowls event,” David explains. The backpack program’s volunteers meet every Friday morning and fill up to 180 grocery bags with food the program buys with donated funds, intended as weekend meals for preschool and elementary-school children in need. Each bag’s contents includes such basic nutritious items as oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, rice, beans, and pasta. The program is based at St. John in the Wilderness and buys, packs, and delivers about 6,000 grocery bags each year to school administrators, who discreetly slip the bag into students’ backpacks before they head home from school on Friday afternoons.

Tickets for the Empty Bowls event are $25 per person ($50 for a family of two adults and children under 12), which includes the handcrafted bowl and a selection of soups, along with breads and desserts donated by local bakeries and restaurants. “This is a grassroots event,” Voorhees says, “helping to alleviate hunger in our own community.”

Empty Bowls happens on Sunday, March 29, in three seatings — 12:30, 5, and 6pm — and will be held in the Parish Hall of St. John in the Wilderness (1895 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock). Tickets are available at the parish office or from any member of the backpack program. For more information, call 828-693-9783 or visit stjohnflatrock.org (also Flat Rock Backpack Program on Facebook).

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