Pottery with a Purpose

Posted on January 24, 2020

EBNI President Betsy Dawson displays pottery fired in their new kiln purchased with a CFCC Angel Fund grant

This is the story of the donor-advised STEP Fund grant that keeps on giving.

It features Empty Bowls of Naples, a quintessential example of a non-profit whose beauty is its focus and simplicity.

For more than a decade, it has marshaled volunteers from all walks of life, all year long, to produce one-of-a-kind handmade ceramic bowls – nearly 5,000 per year — which are selected by buyers of tickets to a single event on a Saturday (Jan. 25 in 2020) at Cambier Park. Emulating a model started in Michigan in 1990, bowls are used to sample soups donated by local restaurants and country clubs now numbering 50 as patrons stroll the grounds, bid on donated art in silent auctions, and revel in the community spirit. Patrons keep the bowls as souvenirs and reminders of the mission.

The organization writes checks to a cadre of established non-profits fighting hunger among children, seniors, and everyone in need in between after paying for pottery supplies and modest work and storage space in an East Naples industrial park.

The $4,959 Community Foundation of Collier County grant was used for a kiln – the fundamental tool that helps turn out all those bowls – up to 60 at a time — more efficiently than ever before. It means EBNI avoids the cost of renting kiln capacity elsewhere and streamlines the vital tracking of inventory. The oven also has adjustable settings, allowing the use of varied and prettier paints and glazes.

The impact? At the end of 2017, for example, Empty Bowls Naples Inc. (EBNI) awarded $90,000 in grants to five local organizations to eliminate hunger “one bowl at a time.’’ The event the next year raised $125,000 for eight local organizations: Collier Child Care Resources, Inc., Community Cooperative, Inc., Meals of Hope, Midwest Food Bank, Naples Senior Center at JFCS, New Hope Ministries, St. Matthew’s House, and the Shelter for Abused Women & Children.

But it all goes back to the bowls born at up to 2,200 degrees in the kiln for EBNI’s sole fund-raiser of the year – launched by teachers and other potters trying to make a difference. Their first event raised $16,000, and they have helped launch the Empty Bowls template in 20 other communities.

EBNI President Betsy Dawson details the networking that the kiln empowers. EBNI hosts two public painting sessions per month, with each drawing over 200 participants. Local artists embellish ceramic pieces created by local potters or donate original works of their own for the silent auction. Neighborhoods, businesses, and clubs host and fund private painting parties while EBNI volunteers travel to retirement communities, senior centers, and special needs groups.

Plus, EBNI raises public awareness by providing volunteers to speak to local groups about hunger and food insecurity and Empty Bowls is doing to help. The program encourages youth volunteerism and involvement by supporting student community service hour programs at local schools and with FSW and FGCU.

The modest kiln grant of less than $5,000 is a part of all that.                                                                      

Thus, the grant that keeps on giving.