Southwest Minneapolis residents braved the cold on Feb. 6, gathering for the eighth annual Empty Bowls fundraiser in Kingfield. Inside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center, community members chose from a variety of bowls donated by local potters.
After paying a suggested donation and claiming their bowl, participants dined on homemade soups and desserts donated by local restaurants. Families and couples sat at the long tables, greeting neighbors they hadn’t seen in months while others quietly enjoyed pieces of fresh bread and small cups of fruit tea.
Serving soup to about 600 people, the Kingfield Neighborhood Association collected over $10,000 in four hours, with the money going to Nicollet Square, a 42-unit permanent housing facility for young adults transitioning out of homelessness and foster care. The facility is located at 37th & Nicollet.
As the fundraiser’s designated “bowl lady,” Lori Olson is a longtime volunteer who is in charge of reaching out to local artists, potters and schools to find those willing to donate bowls for the event.
“One of the things I love about Empty Bowls is it’s not just one community event — it’s many,” Olson said.
Throughout the year, volunteers host multiple pottery “throwdowns” at Fuller Park and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center. Here professional artists and neighbors make bowls side-by-side, often sharing conversation while they work.
Olson also organizes an event the day after a throwdown where community members return to “trim” the bottom of the bowls so they will sit evenly on a flat surface. Then, after the bowls are fired, volunteers of all ages paint and pack them so they will be ready for sale.
Although the “empty bowls” model isn’t an entirely new concept — there are similar events in Powderhorn, Northeast Minneapolis, Hopkins and across the country — Kingfield Empty Bowls is an effective way to remind people about the prevalence of youth homelessness and hunger in the Twin Cities.
“What we loved about the event was that it wasn’t just about food and it wasn’t just about art — it was about bringing those things together in a super intergenerational way,” said Sarah Linnes-Robinson, the executive director of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association.
For Marie Neveaux-Samuels, age 5, the event was an opportunity for her to try a spicy cajun chicken soup she had never had before. She also came prepared to give back.
“I brought my allowance so I could raise some money,” she said, offering up her purse. “I want people to have homes.”
Dan Swenson-Klatt, owner of the Butter Bakery Cafe, donated 20 gallons of his popular lentil brown rice soup this year. As a contributor to the Kingfield Empty Bowls event since 2013, he has seen firsthand the effect of the event on those in the Nicollet Square community.
Swenson-Klatt partnered with the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative in 2012 to provide internships and restaurant experience for residents at Nicollet Square who needed a job. Residents in the program often help him make soup stock for Empty Bowls and several have worked at the event.
When it was first announced that the Nicollet Square building was moving into the neighborhood, Swenson-Klatt said many neighbors were apprehensive. The Empty Bowls event was designed in part to educate people about the building and build support for the residents who lived there.
“These young folks when they move in are at a spot in their life where they are making some real positive efforts to gain some stability,” he said. “When neighbors meet our interns, they recognize that these young folks have turned a corner.”
While one of his current cooks is a former Nicollet Square resident, Swenson-Klatt said he’s grateful for those who donated food for the event even if they don’t have a “connection with the building or know any of the residents themselves.”
“It’s not just about the housing,” he said. “It’s not just about the jobs. It’s about a community that works together and a business community that pitches in.”