Empty Bowls volunteers in spring 2023 showcase a sampling of 700 bowls donated by local potters. Left to right: Leslie Nyman, Deborah Swan, Adrienne Levine, Cammie McGovern and Susan Crim.
Photo credit: Kelley Jewell, Amherst Survival Center

AMHERST — The Amherst Survival Center has stood tough for the community through good times and bad, and with the upcoming 16th annual Empty Bowls Fundraiser, it’s another year of bringing the community together to help continue the fight against food insecurity.

Scheduled for Saturday, April 6 from noon to 4 p.m. at the center’s site at 138 Sunderland Rd., North Amherst, the Empty Bowls event is a treasured local event that brings the community together to fight hunger and raise funds for the center’s programs and ensuring that area residents have access to the food they need.

“The community shows up in force,” said Amherst Survival Center Executive Director Lev BenEzra on the fundraiser and overall support for the center’s work. “It is just truly this community effort and I think that it’s a beautiful way that we all get to come together and help make daily programs of the Amherst Survival Center possible, while also participating in this event that really is very aligned with the mission that we come together and that we share a simple, but really delicious meal.”

The fundraiser’s tickets cost $50 each and allows for guests to select a unique and handcrafted bowl made by local artists and choose between a dozen options for soups donated by local restaurants, along with salad and freshly baked bread. Meat, vegetarian, vegan and gluten free soup options will be available. The keepsake bowl is each guests to keep as a reminder of all the bowls they have helped to fill.

“This annual event funds the critical food and nutrition programs that just last year provided more than 1.4 million meals to 10,000 of our neighbors. Right now, with costs at the grocery store so high and the end of pandemic-era benefits such as additional SNAP, we are seeing unprecedented need — 40% higher than the peak surges of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also seeing record numbers of families coming to the Center for the very first time,” said BenEzra. “I am grateful to be a part of a community where we support each other, and where we know that everyone should have the food they need. Empty Bowls is a beautiful opportunity to put that value into action.”

BenEzra added nothing happens at the center without the community investment that has been made, but their mission has had added challenges as of late as food insecurity issues rise across the nation. She added the current need has surpassed the highest surges seen during COVID-19.

“That is absolutely stretching and straining assets. We are really working to be able to meet that need and to respond and in order to do that, like always, we are turning to our community for help,” BenEzra said.

Leading up to this year’s Empty Bowls Fundraiser, BenEzra said the community has already stepped up in preparation for the event. She added the center’s short-term goals involve building up the capacity of many components of its fundraising efforts to help meet the rising need.

In the meantime, BenEzra encourages individuals in the community to advocate for more comprehensive anti-hunger policies as these challenges continue. She recommended those interested learn more about the Farm Bill that is currently being negotiated on by legislators.

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive package of legislation passed once every five years that has a direct impact on agriculture, food systems and consumers. It covers programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access for low-income families.

This bill also serves as the funding for SNAP benefits.

“There are many different opportunities in this cycle to both make sure that food security efforts aren’t harmed and reduced in this next iteration of the bill, as well as advocating for increases, and so anyone can also reach out to their federal legislators and identify their strong support of all food security measures included in the Farm Bill,” BenEzra said.

She added that those looking to learn more about the bill and more in general on the subject visit www.frac.org.

The Empty Bowls event will also feature service from local officials including state legislators, town leaders and special guests.

Tickets are $50 and are available at www.amherstsurvival.org/emptybowls or by calling the Amherst Survival Center at 413-549-3968 extension 108.

Guests who don’t want a handmade bowl may also choose “soup only” tickets for adults ($30), or for children ($10). Children 2 and under are free and tickets can also be purchased in person on the day of the event.

Empty Bowls will also include a raffle with various prizes available including handblown glass pieces from Josh Simpson, a private wine tasting from Provisions, and more. Raffle tickets will be $10 each, three for $25, or 10 for $50.

Additionally, Empty Bowls keepsake aprons will be available for purchase, and any donations on top of ticket purchases will be matched by Presenting Sponsor Greenfield Savings Bank, up to $5,000.

“Greenfield Savings Bank is proud to sponsor and support Empty Bowls and the Amherst Survival Center. This inspiring event brings the community together to both raise awareness about food insecurity in our community and to raise funds needed to address the problem,” said CEO and President of Greenfield Savings Bank Thomas Meshako.

Other notable sponsors for the event include PeoplesBank, Florence Bank and Cooley Dickinson Hospital, as well as many others.

Each year for the event, ceramic artists throughout the region donate their talents and time to create the handcrafted bowls made available and this year is no different.

“Students at Amherst Regional High School have been proudly donating bowls from their Ceramics course since the first Empty Bowls 16 years ago,” said Hannah Hartl, an art teacher at Amherst Regional High School. “After throwing daily for three months, students become incredibly good ceramicists and set a very high bar for their donations. Volunteering and viewing their bowls alongside those of outstanding local potters is always a great honor. Alums have repeatedly told me that being a part of Empty Bowls affected their outlook on ways to help others.”

The event will also feature foods from restaurants and businesses across the valley, including first time participant the Ashfield Lake House.

“We are thrilled to provide a soup for the Empty Bowls fundraiser,” said Ashfield Lake House owner and Chef Dre Rawlings. “We believe everyone deserves access to healthy and nourishing food, and the Amherst Survival Center is a welcoming place our neighbors can turn to for help. As a community we can work together to relieve the stress of food insecurity felt by so many.”

To purchase tickets and to view the full list of sponsors, restaurants, potters and businesses involved visit www.amherstsurvival.org/emptybowls.

Looking ahead to this year’s Empty Bowls, BenEzra is happy this event is returning and ready to reinforce what it can accomplish when it brings the community together.

“I’m in awe every day of what our community can accomplish together,” said BenEzra. “Now is a time when the Amherst Survival Center really needs the community’s support to help us meet the rising need. When we gather together on April 6 to fill our bowls, we are filling the bowls of our neighbors.”