Filling an Empty Bowl

It is very easy to take certain necessities for granted.  A roof over your head.  A comfortable place to lie down at night.  A stocked refrigerator.  In this “land of the free, home of the brave” country of ours, you would like to think that everyone had access to these things.  Sadly, as we all know, that is not the reality in which we live.  Poverty exists.  Children go to bed hungry.  And far too many people turn a blind eye to the fact that, as great as this country has the potential to be, there are far too many people out there who need assistance. 

Luckily for those people in need, there are individuals and agencies out there with the wherewithal and aspiration to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.  Here in Cattaraugus County, one of those agencies is Cattaraugus Community Action, where there is an array of programs that aim to better the lives of people in need of a little assistance. 

One creative way that Community Action has taken to fundraising over the past four years is by incorporating the idea of the Empty Bowls Dinner. 

“Empty Bowls dinners are part of a national event begun by the Imagine Render Group so local hunger-prevention agencies can defray costs associated with providing food to the hungry, and as a way to raise awareness,” said Sharon Turano, the Volunteer Coordinator for Community Action.  “Having heard of them done by other area pantries, we thought it would be a good way, not only to make money for the soup kitchen (always in need of dishwasher, refrigerator or other repairs), but also to raise awareness that hunger is not just a far-a-way problem, but a local one, also.”

“Over 19% of our population and 31.2% of children in Cattaraugus live below the poverty level,” stated Tina Zerbian, MSEd, Chief Executive Officer of Cattaraugus Community Action.  “The Empty Bowls Dinner is one way that we bring awareness to these challenges and do our part to counteract conditions of hunger and malnutrition.”

But just what does an Empty Bowls Dinner entail, you ask?  Well, they feature local artists who craft their own unique bowls.  People purchase tickets (only $10) for the event, which gets them a dinner where the bowls are featured.  Ticket holders get to take the empty bowl at their seat home with them as a reminder of what others are forced to deal with.  According to the Imagine Render Group’s website, one in eight Americans deal with food insecurity on a daily basis. 

What makes this event even more unique is that all the food for the event is prepared by Community Action’s Food for Thought program.   John Haley, the culinary arts instructor for the program, stated that it began four years ago so those looking for jobs in the culinary field are “a step ahead” of other applicants.  Cattaraugus Community Action is housed in a former school building so the kitchen area serves as the classroom for those wanting to get jobs in the culinary field.  Haley said, “The classes teach ServSafe, so those graduating from the culinary arts training have basic fundamentals, giving them the best possible chance to get ahead.” Although the youth Food for Thought class is held in the summer for about nine youth who prepare dinners for the Aug. 11 Empty Bowls Dinner, adult 15-week classes have 8 to 15 people in the class. Anyone interested in learning more about Food for Thought can call Patsi Magara at 716-945-1041 ext. 140

Without a doubt the primary function of the Empty Bowls Dinner is to raise funds and awareness about a very serious issue.  That said, it is also a creativity showcase of sorts.  Local artists help to make this event unique to this area and every bowl is a representation of the originality that encompasses the Western New York art scene.  Some of the professional artists you will see featured this year include: Hogshed Pottery, Huntington Studios, Golden Hills Studios, Peter Georgen, Carson Waterman (he also donated a print that will be raffled off at the event), and the Native American Artist Guild.  On top of that, groups like students from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, the Great Valley Baptist Church youth group, Salamanca High School art classes, home-school students fulfilling art credits, the Salamanca Youth Bureau, and the Machias Summer Recreation participants all contributed to the creation of bowls for the fundraiser.

One important note to make is that all funds raised stay in the community and go directly to Cattaraugus Community Action’s soup kitchen, which is open daily from 3:30-4:45pm and historically serves over 16,000 meals annually.  The soup kitchen is housed at Cattaraugus Community Action, 25 Jefferson Street in Salamanca. It is one of numerous programs offered by CCA. The Seneca Allegany Casino provides leftovers from the buffet every day.  The kitchen is run by volunteers and overseen by a Community Action-hired chef.  It serves those hungry the leftovers they re-heat, along with other items they prepare.  For more information on the Empty Bowls Dinner, check out www.ccaction.org or call 716-945-1041.

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