By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Empty Bowls is the main annual fundraiser for local food pantry and clothes closet Soup or Socks.
While Soup or Socks is a Marshfield-based organization, Empty Bowls is a nationwide fundraising campaign. At the local Empty Bowls event, which this year will take place from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. March 14 at Hotel Marshfield, attendees pay $10 and each receive a clay bowl that has been donated to the event by various groups in the community. All are welcome to attend.
A coordinator for the event, Sarah Bennett, said that guests are given one serving of soup and then take the clay bowl home with them to serve as a reminder that many people in the community face the prospect of empty bowls on a daily basis.
“Empty Bowls is a lot like a soup kitchen concept. You come in. You pay $10 to get in. You get one bowl of soup. That’s it,” Bennett said. “The idea is that may be your only meal for the week, for the day. It’s not an all-you-can-eat event.”
Empty Bowls began 25 years ago when an art teacher in Michigan challenged his art class to create a fundraiser that would help feed the hungry. The students decided to make clay bowls and sell them to raise money for those in need. The fundraising event is relatively new in Marshfield, first taking place here in 2012.
The bowls for the event are made and donated by various groups in the community. Nearly all of the area school districts, Chestnut Avenue Center for the Arts, and local artists will contribute bowls this year. Bennett added that area restaurants donate the soup served at Empty Bowls.
“Everything is local,” Bennett said. “It’s truly a community program to give back to the community.”
Bennett said that Empty Bowls raises more than half of the money for Soup or Socks’ food costs each year. Empty Bowls raised $13,000 last year for Soup or Socks and has raised $29,000 since its inception in Marshfield.
“All of the money raised (at Empty Bowls) comes to Soup or Socks,” Bennett said.
Cheryl Lewis Hartl, director of Soup or Socks, said that Empty Bowls has become a signature event for the food pantry.
“It’s the biggest fundraiser we actually do,” Lewis Hartl said, adding that all the donations from Empty Bowls go strictly toward purchasing food for the shelter. Lewis Hartl said that besides Empty Bowls, Soup or Socks also receives funding from Marshfield Area United Way and community donations.
Empty Bowls, Lewis Hartl said, has made a huge impact on the success of Soup or Socks.
“Over the years it’s always been something. If we don’t have enough money, what are we going to cut first? And so Empty Bowls has really allowed us to not even have to worry about that.”
Soup or Socks started as a food pantry in 1992. As time went on, the organization recognized an increasing community need for clothing in addition to food, and the name was changed from Marshfield Area Pantry to Soup or Socks to reflect the dual purpose of the organization.
Soup or Socks works with North Central Community Action Program to discern which residents are in need of food and clothing. Lewis Hartl said that Soup or Socks can also take referrals from school counselors, church ministers, and medical facilities to determine who needs assistance.
Lewis Hartl said that she grew up in a big family and never suffered from a lack of food in her home. However, she said she knows the line between needing help and not is a fine one, and that has inspired her to work to help the hungry in the community.
“To make this the best place that it can be and give out the healthiest food we can give out is just hugely important to me,” Lewis Hartl said.
To donate to Soup or Socks, you can drop food or clothing items off at the pantry, which is located inside First Presbyterian Church in Marshfield, 200 S. Lincoln Ave. You can also mail monetary donations to Soup or Socks at P.O. Box 146, Marshfield, WI 54449. Soup or Socks is open for donations Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.