Filling stomachs and building a community, one empty bowl at a time

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 22, 2017

 Eight-year-old Charlie Ramsdell, of Grosse Pointe Shores; his mother, Michele; and sister Clare paint bowls in 2013. This year’s event will be held at Eastern Market in Detroit March 3 and at Assumption Cultural Center March 12.

Eight-year-old Charlie Ramsdell, of Grosse Pointe Shores; his mother, Michele; and sister Clare paint bowls in 2013. This year’s event will be held at Eastern Market in Detroit March 3 and at Assumption Cultural Center March 12.

File photo provided by Assumption Cultural Center

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — What began as a church camp project that raised $500 for the hungry has blossomed into an annual event that involves hundreds of people and raises $25,000 to help feed the homeless in Detroit.

“We started it when my kids were little for vacation church camp,” said Bonnie Mellos, chair of the Empty Bowls fundraiser at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church. “We were teaching the kids about giving back and being good stewards for the church.”

That first event, 11 years ago, raised $500 for Gleaners Community Food Bank when parents and other family members purchased the bowls their children had painted. 

Since then, the event has raised money for Cass Community Social Services and has grown so much that they’ve had to add a second night for patrons to come, enjoy a simple meal of soup and bread, and take home an empty, painted bowl as a reminder that someone else’s bowl is always empty.

This year’s Empty Bowls fundraiser will be held 5:30-11 p.m. March 3 in Shed 5 of Eastern Market in Detroit, and then again 4-6 p.m. March 12 at Assumption Cultural Center, 21800 Marter Road.

The Detroit event will include soups, bread, cheese, wine and beer from Detroit businesses, as well as live entertainment. Tickets for that event cost $30 in advance at empty bowlsdetroit.com or $40 at the door.

“It’s just a wonderful evening for people to gather,” said Joan De Ronne, of Assumption. “We were running out of space. It had such a great following.”

The second event of the year, at Assumption, will include soup from 15 local restaurants and gospel and Motown music from The Ambassadors, a group of previously homeless men from Cass. The minimum donation requested at that event is $15 and can be paid at the door.

Cass Community Social Services has a program that provides food, housing, employment and health care for those in need. 

“What I love about their program is they empower people,” Mellos said. “Our money goes to their food program. They serve a million meals a year.”

Cass also employs 85 people in “green” industries, where they make mats and sandals from tires collected throughout the city that are then shredded and recycled into the new products. This year, the organization also has a tiny homes project that will lease 25 200- to 400-square-foot homes that will be rented for $1 per square foot to low-income residents for seven years. The residents will attend classes on home ownership and finance and, at the end of the seven years, will own the home.

“The most important part of this is, the years of Empty Bowls have produced income to help in the vision of the Rev. Faith Fowler,” the executive director of Cass Community Social Services, De Ronne said. “It’s more than just feeding the hungry — it’s trying to rehabilitate them and house them and so on.”

The Empty Bowls fundraiser is a community affair, with local residents coming on Friday nights since September to bowl-painting workshops where they have helped to create about 1,400 bowls. There will even be bowls created by celebrities like Carole King, rapper Big Sean, former Detroit Tiger Al Kaline and more, which will be auctioned off online at emptybowls detroit.com to raise more money for Cass Community Social Services. 

“It’s growing like crazy and super exciting,” Mellos said. “Raising awareness for Cass and hunger. It’s a lot of fun to give people an opportunity to give back.”

For tickets, the celebrity bowl auction or more information, visit emptybowlsdetroit.com.

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