- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - For at least two hours, people looked at empty bowls and remembered those who are hungry.

At the 10th annual Montgomery Empty Bowls luncheon at First Baptist Church, a fundraiser that benefits the Montgomery Area Food Bank, hundreds from the region purchased handmade bowls which were designed, molded, decorated and sent through the kiln by local artists, students and the community.

“It really helps (financially), and with awareness,” said Parke Hinman, executive director of the Montgomery Area Food Bank. “People and organizations make the bowls, and what a lot of them learn is how to make the bowls. When you look at the empty bowl, you remember that there are people that are hungry. That’s the basic idea of the Empty Bowl.”

At the luncheon on Thursday, people purchased the handmade bowls, and then received a bowl of soup in a separate bowl, bread and drinks. And while the event has benefited the food bank for 10 years, this is the 30th year the food bank has combated hunger in the River Region and Feeding Hope Across Alabama. The Empty Bowls luncheon has grown from a 50-bowl event to more than 400 bowls.

“I’m here today because, well, it’s important because people need food,” said 8-year-old Emma Willis, a Redland Elementary School second-grader. “And I’m just here to celebrate that some people can get some food.”

The Empty Bowls project began in 1991, when Michigan art teacher John Hartom thought of the idea to raise money by using ceramic bowls made in his class as a way to raise money. The idea spread across the nation.

Margaret Barber brought it to Montgomery. A potter, she moved to the River Region 17 years ago. She had been involved in Empty Bowls previously and decided Montgomery needed to be a part of the movement and that the food bank needed to be the recipient.

The Montgomery Area Food Bank is the largest distributing food bank in Alabama, covering 35 of the state’s 67 counties - or 24,921 square miles - with a population of more than 1.4 million. The coverage includes 11 of the 12 counties considered part of the “Black Belt,” where living conditions are chronically some of the worst in the nation.

About 1.3 million pounds of food is in the warehouse at any time, and that is turned over between 10 and 13 times every year.

And to help raise money with this mission, students from art classes at Loveless Academic Magnet Program made almost three dozen clay structures.

“Some of us decided that we would buy them for ourselves because we liked them so much,” said Meagan Holloway-Ragland, a LAMP junior, adding the art work is done as part of class curriculum and that it is an assignment for which the students receive a grade. “The school does this every year … it’s a way to give back, and it’s fun to let other people see your bowls.”

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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