By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — “Soup for the Soul” became more than just a catchphrase in Goshen early Saturday evening with the kickoff of the 11th annual Empty Bowl Project Fundraiser at the Mill Race Farmer’s Market.
Hosted by the Clay Artists Guild, the event got its start in 2002 as a way to both showcase the guild’s many talented artists while also drawing on the generosity of the community to help combat homelessness in Elkhart County.
“So how this works is basically people come in, pay their $15 donation; they pick out a hand-made bowl; they get a very humble meal of soup, bread and dessert, and when they leave they have an empty bowl to remind them that there are hungry people in the community,” said Jessica Koscher, Guild member and event coordinator for the Empty Bowl Project. “When you think about it, this really is the epitome of a charitable event. The Farmer’s Market donates the space. Guild members and local artists donate the bowls. Restaurants donate soup, bakers donate bread and people come and give a donation. It’s just amazing.”
With the popularity of the event only seeming to grow each year, Koscher said she wouldn’t be surprised if Saturday’s turnout exceeds last year’s total of more than 800 attendees. And looking at the line of people wrapped around the building early Saturday evening, her predictions didn’t seem far off.
“The event is three hours long, and about every 20 minutes we’ve had about 100 people coming through, so we’re hopeful we’ll beat last year’s numbers,” Koscher said. “We have 910 bowls out right now, so we’ll see. We’re ready for it.”
As with past years, this year’s charity recipient is the Goshen Interfaith Hospitality Network, which helps feed and house local homeless families.
“We are partnered with 16 churches here in the Goshen area,” said Phil Keller, executive director of the GIHN. “We have a day center on Third Street where families camp more or less during the day, take showers, do laundry, use the phone, those types of things. Then we also provide a certain amount of case management services trying to get them back on their feet again, connecting them to possible jobs and other social service agencies. Then every night at 5 p.m., they go to one of our host churches and spend the night there.”
As a not-for-profit organization, the GIHN derives a majority of its funding from individual and group donation such as those collected through the Empty Bowl Project, which on average typically generates about $10,000 for the organization each year.
“Our goal as a guild was to do a project that would benefit the community, so that’s why the Empty Bowl was started,” Koscher said. “As a group of artists, we wanted to make sure that we were giving back to the community in many ways, and this is one way that we really felt was important.”
Peter Schlegel, a Goshen resident and longtime attendee of the Empty Bowl Project, couldn’t agree more.
“These events are really so important,” Schlegel said while in line to pick out his own bowl Saturday evening. “We were actually talking a little bit while we were in the line to get in, how we’re out waiting in the cold, and it bothers us for an hour. But the reality is that for some people, an hour in the cold is nothing. And that’s why we’re hear. It really opens your eyes to what homeless people have to go through each and every day.”