Empty Bowl Project

The 29th year of the popular Empty Bowl Project will be held online this year, with the silent auction beginning June 1. Photo courtesy Fairbanks Potters Guild

Fairbanks residents hoping to purchase pottery and help the hungry this weekend are in luck. After moving online in 2020, the Empty Bowls Project is back in person for its 30th year. 

The 2021 Empty Bowl Project will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Food Bank Volunteer Club House, 2216 S. Cushman St. The event is a fundraiser for the Fairbanks Community Food Bank during which artists from the Fairbanks Potters Guild and pottery students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks donate handmade pottery bowls which the public can purchase or bid on. Although the event will look a bit different than in past years, organizers are excited that it will once again be in person.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Empty Bowl Project was held virtually in 2020. This year, however, organizers — the food bank, the Fairbanks Potters Guild and the Student Clay Arts Guild — have made several adjustments to allow the event to occur safely in person.

“It will be a whole new experience,” said Fairbanks potter Shirley Odsather. Changes include moving to an outdoor location; the bowls will be placed on outside tables and volunteers will direct people to limit crowding. Customers are also able to purchase bowls on their own by scanning a QR code with their phones. Odsather explained this will help limit interactions between customers and cashiers, since people can avoid going inside to pay unless they want to.

Along with the sale, there will be a silent auction inside the Club House. This will be indoors, but in order to maintain social distancing only a limited number of people will be allowed inside. Additionally, there will be shirts featuring the work of a local artist to commemorate the fundraiser’s 30th anniversary.

“It’s really lovely to be in person again,” said Anne Weaver, CEO of the Fairbanks Community Food Bank. Weaver explained that seeing the support of community members is a really important component of the event, particularly for artists. “It’s much more rewarding [for them],” Weaver said. Odsather echoed Weaver’s sentiment. “We are all excited about having the bowls physically available this year,” she said. This includes customers she has spoken to, because “people definitely like to touch the bowls they purchase.”

Weaver is optimistic that, with the modified in person event, 2021 will see normal returns. According to Weaver, potters typically provide a total of 1,000 bowls for the event, which in the past few years has raised roughly $20,000 on average.

“We’re super excited,” she said, both for seeing the community turn out and for the opportunity to help those in need. 

Last year, the Empty Bowl Project brought in $11,000 ‚ less than in normal years, but still impressive given the circumstances of the pandemic, according to Weaver.

“Last year really threw us all off kilter,” Odsather said. At a time when need was highest due to school closures and job loss, the pandemic also limited the ability to hold in-person fundraisers such as the Empty Bowl Project. However, both Weaver and Odsather reported that the online fundraiser turned out to be a success. 

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7545.

If You Go

What: 30th annual Empty Bowls Project

Where: 2216 S. Cushman St. at the Food Bank Volunteer Club House

When: Saturday, April 3, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Cost: Free to attend but bring cash for bowl purchases.

FYI: For more information, call 457-4273 or go to www.fairbanksfoodbank.org.