Volunteer chefs, artists, soup servers and about 2,000 hungry diners had a hand in making 2012 the best year yet for the state's largest Empty Bowls fundraiser, Milwaukee Empty Bowls.
The crowds arrived at Milwaukee Area Technical College's Oak Creek campus Saturday in search of soups made by local restaurants and MATC culinary students. But first they stopped to choose a ceramic bowl, handmade by a local artist, schoolchild and other volunteer.
"We have people who like to make things put their love and energy into this bowl," Milwaukee Empty Bowls President Jean Wells said. "It's so symbolic and so beautiful. That bowl is a universal symbol of nourishment."
There were 2,500 to choose from, more than 800 of which were donated by Murray Hill Pottery Works, a studio-gallery on Milwaukee's East Side that organizes a one-day bowl-athon.
More than 100 volunteers served the diners and helped in other ways, and at the close of the day, Milwaukee Empty Bowls raised $51,000 to be split among eight food pantries in southeastern Wisconsin.
This year's event marked Milwaukee Empty Bowls' 14th anniversary, and the 10th year the charity has partnered with MATC-Oak Creek. It was the first year the fundraiser included a cookbook sale. More than 60 recipes were provided by participating restaurants.
The program has grown over the years, having raised just $14,000 in its inaugural year.
Wells, a potter, teamed up with a friend who worked as an event planner at Shelly's Catering after attending an Empty Bowls fundraiser in Madison. They used their connections to the restaurant and arts communities to bring Empty Bowls to Milwaukee.
"Everybody wants to be able to contribute to their community," she said. "It's ideal when you can use your skills for giving to your community."
The money raised will be divided among the recipient food pantries based on need and will go solely toward food and food-equipment purchases.
Empty Bowls is a national program, with events catering to small groups to large, black-tie events that can cost upward of $100.
"We want to keep ours as an event that everybody can come to," Wells said. "We like to make it so a family can come and make a donation and have a nice meal."
Milwaukee Empty Bowls gives a scholarship of $1,000 to MATC's culinary school in exchange for use of the campus.
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