Good music, good friends and generous hearts are always hallmarks of the Northwest Missouri State University Clay Club's Empty Bowls soup supper, and Friday's fifth annual gathering at The Station proved no exception.
The dinner, which raises a couple of thousand dollars for the Maryville Ministry Center food pantry, features food donated by local businesses that participants eat out of nearly 400 handcrafted bowls and cups made by Northwest art students and local potters.
It's hard to describe just what makes Empty Bowls different from other charity events regularly held in Maryville. But it is. It may be the easy-on-the ears acoustic music, provided this year by a fine young guitarist named Seth Wade. Or it may be the mix of community leaders, retired folks, teachers, families and college students – a gumbo of young and old from almost every walk of life.
Most likely the relaxed and welcoming vibe comes from sharing an evening of food and warmth and conviviality while fully aware that having enough of all those things is a gift denied to too many people in a county where poverty is endemic, and where nearly half the schoolchildren qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.
"We've got quite a collection of these mugs," said Mike Phillips, who, along with his wife, Sheila, is an Empty Bowls regular. "I like how this event involves the student body, and I like the home-grown aspect of it. It's just a win-win all the way around for everybody."
A few chairs down the table from the Phillipses, the Rev. Scott Moon, pastor of the Maryville United Methodist Church, was enjoying a large bowl of soup with his wife, Michele.
"Empty Bowls brings in various parts of the community that don't always rub shoulders with each other," Moon said. "I like the creative aspect of the bowls, and I think the meal reminds us of the larger social issue. There's more to it that dollars and cents and taking care of physical needs. I think this makes us aware of spiritual needs as well."
When people from different social and economic backgrounds gather for a shared supper in order to help others, Moon said, "Something very human happens."
He added that ignoring problems like poverty and hunger creates a "spiritual deficit," while joining in a common cause that "humanizes and doesn't dehumanize" results in a "spiritual plus."
Moon said this year's Empty Bowls soup supper was especially significant since deep cuts in federal spending – the so-called sequester – mean that many nutrition assistance programs may be reduced in scope or eliminated.
"It looks as if the sequester will have a disproportionate impact on social needs and especially hunger," he said.
Empty Bowls organizer Laura Kukkee, an art professor who teaches ceramics at Northwest, said the annual supper serves the dual purpose of providing food for people going through hard times and "alerting students to the need, showing them that there are people in this area who are hungry."
Page 2 of 2 - Spending four months transforming raw clay into hundreds of colorfully glazed bowls and cups inevitably gives rise to reflection about one's obligation to help the less fortunate, and teaching students to translate compassion into action, Kukkee said, is one reason why making art is an important part of the college experience.
"This is about creative problem solving and critical thinking about social and political issues – global issues," Kukkee said. "It should be part of the nature of college life that these types of events are happening."