Empty Bowls Houston
Five years ago, a friend asked me to help her organize volunteers for Empty Bowls Houston. I said, “Sure … what’s Empty Bowls?” That’s me - I say “yes” without always knowing what I’m getting into. I usually regret it.
After teaching for almost 20 years, I retired and enrolled in a ceramics class at the nearby community college, where I met my new friend. I’d never taken ceramics before, and initially wanted to enroll in a sculpture class but it wasn’t offered at the college. The entire first year of classes didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I was better at chiseling hard stone and working with industrial machinery, not forming delicate porcelain clay teacups and bowls. Finally I produced something I was proud of – a vessel that resembled a small inkwell that was barely 2 inches tall and weighed almost a pound. Its best use would have been as a doorstop for a never-used bathroom! I proudly displayed it in my kitchen for a few years and, ultimately, it ended up in my memorabilia box as I got the hang of throwing on the pottery wheel.
My first Empty Bowls Houston meeting was held at the Houston Food Bank’s old location, a well-used, old warehouse in a part of town that I had never been in before. Another nice looking, well-dressed couple said they were also there for the meeting, otherwise I probably would have snuck out.
We were led up a narrow staircase with frayed carpet, through a maze of halls and into a meeting room without enough chairs. I thought, “They must not have been expecting me. I should have left while I had the chance, they wouldn’t know the difference.”
But I stayed and the meeting started, introductions were made, and topics discussed to which I couldn’t contribute. I was a shy elementary school teacher, not cut out to be a committee member discussing ways to raise money for a large charitable organization. I was out of my comfort zone. This was an opportunity though – something that I had been looking for, a way to make a difference.
In my last teaching job, I worked at a school where 97% of the students lived below the poverty level. I had taught at a few different schools before, but these kids were the most loving of any I had ever had. They had tough lives. A single clean sheet of copy paper was like a Christmas present. A clothes closet at home was a nail on the wall on which they hung their clothes. I taught kids that had never slept in a bed their entire lives! One eight-year-old whom I thought was from a loving home had never played in the grass because he lived in a shelter. Another family lived in their car. I’d see the car at 6 a.m. parked in the school lot, with the boys and their dad sleeping inside. The dad had a job with the school district. Their mom had been deported. The school bus had a stop at the local motel to pick up some of the kids who lived there and went to our school. I knew extended families who lived together and worked 40-50 hours a week in the construction business earning only enough to eat one meal a day. Despite all this, they were loving well-mannered kids. If they were having a bad day, it was because they were hungry.
My first year on the Empty Bowls Houston committee, I helped organize the demo artists and volunteers for the event. What that meant was that my friend did all the work and I was copied on the emails. The second year, I was getting better at the pottery wheel and I was put in charge of recruiting volunteers for Empty Bowls Houston event day. I learned that the Houston artist community is extremely generous with their time and talent, and I met a lot of really cool people. Being an artsy person, I was always the misfit in my family, but here was a community with which I felt I belonged! My husband and I sold our big house in Conroe, leaving behind a great garage studio and moved into an apartment in the Museum District where I could be close to Glassell Studio School. I started taking classes there and turned the apartment’s small utility room into my pottery studio.
My third year on the Empty Bowls Houston committee, I accepted a challenge to make 100 bowls to donate to the event. I decided that I would throw at least five bowls each morning and that I wouldn’t eat breakfast until I was finished. I thought about all the kids who had touched my life while I wrestled with the clay on the wheel.
Last year, I was part of Glassell’s group effort to make 1,000 bowls for Empty Bowls Houston. With each bowl selling for a $25 donation, Houston Food Bank, the event’s beneficiary, is able to provide 75 meals. I did the math in my head, while working at the wheel . . . “How many people did I feed today?”
This year, I’m the Chair of Empty Bowls Houston. The co-founder and chair for the last 10 years, Thomas Perry, stepped aside although he’s still on the committee and is an indispensable advisor. I’m honored that the committee trusts me to carry on what Tom started. I’m still uncomfortable in meetings, stumble over my words when talking in public and hate asking people to volunteer to do things, but I know the pain of hunger is much more uncomfortable. Some of the people in that first meeting five years ago, including that nice well-dressed couple, are still on the committee working tirelessly toward a common goal.
This year’s Empty Bowls Houston event is Saturday, May 16 at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Attendees may choose from more than 2,000 original one-of-a-kind bowls for a $25 donation and will receive a delicious soup lunch provided by our presenting sponsor, Whole Foods Market. Katz Coffee is serving iced coffee and Good Pops is offering yummy, all- natural frozen treats. Live music performances will be held in the garden, while potters, wood-turners and others demonstrate the art of bowl-making. I hope that you’ll come out for a fun event and support Empty Bowls Houston and your Houston Food Bank.
I do not regret saying “yes” to Empty Bowls Houston.