Empty Bowls fundraiser helps SAM’s House

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Asher Laude, 6, of Shawano, looks at all the colorful bowls painted by high school students and local residents for the Empty Bowls fundraiser Saturday at Hillcrest Primary School in Shawano. The bowls served as a reminder that while everyone at the event was enjoying soup, many people in poverty go hungry.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Sue Mielenhausen, left, prepares a bowl of soup for Kyler Dillenburg, right, 9, of Hobart, as Tom Mielenhausen watches in the kitchen area at Hillcrest Primary School. The soup luncheon, as part of the Empty Bowls fundraiser, helps to benefit SAM’s House, the local homeless shelter.

There were big bowls and small bowls, round bowls and heart-shaped bowls, even bowls with animal faces on them.

The one thing the more than 230 bowls had in common at Saturday’s Empty Bowls fundraiser was they all served as a reminder that many people in the world go hungry.

Shawano Area Matthew 25, which operates SAM’s House, held a soup luncheon last year as a fundraiser for the homeless shelter. But the organization decided to try to make a bigger impact this year with the Empty Bowls concept, started in 1990 by a Michigan art teacher.

“Their community was doing a fundraiser for the food pantry, to raise awareness of the need for it,” said Terry Wiley, one of the event coordinators. “He had his art students make bowls. Then they painted and glazed them, and they had a soup dinner to raise money.”

Since that first event, the Empty Bowls concept has spread to all 50 states as well as 20 other countries, according to Wiley. She and other SAM25 volunteers checked out events in Stevens Point and Milwaukee to see if the idea could generate some funds for their cause.

“The Empty Bowls theme also helps to get artists involved,” she said. “We’re hoping in the years to come to have more artists who will volunteer to make and paint some bowls.”

The local Empty Bowls event tied in hunger with the common problem of homelessness — and a reminder that the two can go hand in hand, said Jen Bisterfeldt, executive director for SAM’s House.

“It’s a reminder that not every bowl is full,” Bisterfeldt said.

SAM25 organized several bowl-painting events at SAM’s House and Shawano Community High School this year, which brought out amateur and professional artists alike to create the bowls.

“This was something that we wanted to be a community effort,” Bisterfeldt said. “They didn’t have to be with SAM25. They just had to want to help.”

She added that the number of people who came out to paint the bowls exceeded her expectations.

The fundraiser comes at an ideal time, as SAM’s House is expected to open Nov. 1 in preparation for winter. Bisterfeldt said there was an average of nine to 10 people in the shelter on Green Bay Street during the shelter season, which runs from November through April. and the shelter logged 1,700 nights of people staying through the 180 days of the season.

The shelter can house 15 people, and there were a number of times when there were more people in need. Alternate arrangements were made to avoid turning people away, according to Bisterfeldt, but the need to house the homeless is growing. “By the second week last year, we were full,” Bisterfeldt said.

Of the people who stayed in SAM’s House last season, half were native to Shawano County. The other half came from surrounding counties — mostly Menominee, Oconto and Waupaca.

SAM25 is looking at finding a bigger building to accommodate more people, Bisterfeldt said.

“Sometimes things happen, and the circumstances can cause people to have a hard time,” she said. “A lot of it is out of their control, so it’s nice to know we’re here to help.”