Four hundred bowls from local professional and amateur artists were available to take home as part of admission to the fifth annual Empty Bowls event to benefit Our Daily Bread.
Photo by Tim Peterson/The Connection
As the Fairfax Saxophone Quartet played dulcet American swing standards to an audience of 300, the atmosphere inside the Stacy C. Sherwood Community Center last Thursday night struck a balance between light-hearted and serious.
While outwardly entertaining, with balloon animals, face-painting, live music and close to 400 colorful handmade bowls available to take home, the fifth annual Empty Bowls fundraiser highlighted a humbling reality: the large population of working poor in the Fairfax County area.
The benefit is the “signature fundraiser” of the evening’s host organization Our Daily Bread, according to executive director Lisa Whetzel. “It’s a great community event,” she said—and a significant one, that drew the presence of Fairfax Mayor R. Scott Silverthorne and Delegate David Bulova (D-37), among others. “First, it’s a lot of fun,” Bulova said. “Second, I’m amazed how many people are here—feeling good lending a helping hand.”
WITH THE HELP of nearly 1,000 volunteers, the non-profit outfit offers a variety of assistance to less fortunate or disadvantaged community members. The annual income of a standard client household is below the poverty line and around $18k per year, either from a single parent or combined wages. Support from Our Daily Bread is meant as a safety net for struggling families faced with a job loss, accident or other financial crisis, and comes in the form of food, financial education and school supplies.
Loosely based on a national model, this Empty Bowls (“So that they may be filled…”—the slogan reads) featured handcrafted pottery donated from local professional artists as well as amateurs. Custom, hand-carved works from renowned Annandale-based artist Susan Fox Hirschmann were available alongside submissions from a handful of area high schools, sports teams and paint-your-own pottery craft institutions such as Clay Café Studios in Chantilly. Admission to the event ($30 for adults in advance and $35 at the door) included a bowl to take home as well as a meal.
In contrast to the beautiful and well-appointed host convention hall, a simple meal of soup and bread, all donated by local restaurants, served as a reminder of the evening’s objective. With choices like Butternut Squash Apple (from Choices by Shawn) and Minestrone Genovese (from Piero’s Corner in Fairfax), and bread from Great Harvest Bread Company, selections were hardly meager, but the effect wasn’t lost on anyone.
“We’re here to talk about the fact that there are poor and homeless right here in Fairfax,” said Hirschmann. The full time teacher and studio artist has donated to Empty Bowls since its inception, and inspires her students to do the same. “It’s more than learning clay,” she said, “it’s learning about giving. Every year I encourage my students to give up at least one bowl.”
While Hirschmann herself brought 10 “wheel-thrown” pieces this year, her pupil Stephen Shaffran donated seven of his own creations. The seventh grade student at Robert Frost Middle School said he “likes to get his hands dirty” on the potter’s wheel. “My only criteria for these were everything must be a different shape, size and color. I’m quite happy to be here, donating these bowls.”
TOGETHER WITH ADMISSIONS, a silent auction of additional artworks helped bring in a sum of $18,000 in donations for Our Daily Bread. According to the group’s communications director Heather Webb, these funds will go directly to providing emergency food and financial assistance for needy families all over Fairfax County.
For reference, in 2012 Our Daily Bread offered food assistance to 287 households, financial aid to 228 households, and holiday assistance to 3,161 households.
“It’s about connecting local people,” said Hirschmann. “This has grown from a very small event to something much larger. I’m thrilled. We develop those connections and [the aid] grows when we don’t remain silent.”