Filling the Empty Bowls

January, 2005

by Kristin Proulx Jarvis

On November 9 at Plymouth Congregational Church, 138 people sat down to dinner together, eating from handmade bowls crafted by PSU ceramics students. The fundraising event, sponsored by the University’s Community Service Learning Center, raised $1,350 that will be split between Meals for Many and Pemi Bridge House, two local organizations that help provide food and shelter for people in need. This was only one of hundreds of similar Empty Bowls events held each year throughout the country and the world to raise money to end hunger.

Empty Bowls is a creative mix of artistic expression and charity created by alumna Lisa Blackburn ’86 and her husband, John Hartom, in 1990. The first Empty Bowls dinner was held at a high school where Hartom taught art, after he enticed his ceramics students to create 120 bowls for a fundraising dinner. Since then, the project has gained national and international participation. The couple has received recognition from hunger awareness groups and arts organizations alike.

These days, Blackburn and Hartom, both artists and art educators, are the founders of The Imagine/Render Group, a nonprofit organization that strives to create positive and lasting social change through the arts, education and projects that build community. The couple has traveled all over the country promoting hunger awareness and encouraging schools and community organizations to use art to raise money for local charities.

Here’s how the Empty Bowls project works. Volunteer potters create ceramic bowls, which are then used to serve a simple meal of soup and bread at a fundraising dinner. Guests at the dinner make a donation of five or 10 dollars, and get to keep the handmade bowl as a reminder of hunger issues around the world.

PSU student Danielle Zercie organized the Plymouth event, and 20 student potters from the University art department made 150 ceramic bowls, which were used to serve the soup and bread dinner. Guests made a donation for dinner, and additional money was raised through sales of T-shirts, bowls and silent auction items.

“This event was a huge success-I never imagined so many people would come out and make such generous additional donations,” Zercie said. “It was amazing to see the community come together to support a great cause, eat great food and socialize with one another.”

The Empty Bowls event also received sponsorship and donations of food and services from several local businesses, including The Common Man Inn, The Italian Farmhouse, Walter’s Basin, Shaw’s Supermarket in Tilton, Peppercorn Natural Foods, Plymouth Regional High School, Sodexho, Great State Beverages and Body Covers Screen Printing in Laconia.

“It is exciting for me to see that Empty Bowls is happening at Plymouth State,” said Blackburn.

For more information about the project, visit

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