October 2014. I showed up late, per usual, to the Empty Bowls Event that I was required to attend for class credit. It sounded cool enough and come to find out people were actually showing up for it. I served chili for several hours,picked out a bowl, and walked away pretty amazed at what a cool concept it was. Think about it, you purchase a ticket (all proceeds benefiting a hunger organization), eat unlimited amounts of chili and get a uniquely handmade bowl to take home. My bowl still serves as a reminder of the empty bowls around the world and in my own backyard that need filled. Pretty cool, right?
Fast forward to October 2015, a lot has changed. That “required” class led to a membership and that membership to a presidency. That’s right, you’re reading an article written by the reigning president of the Hunger Awareness Initiative (HAI) at Wichita State University. Well, technically, it isn’t a queenship so I don’t get to reign, per say, but that is really beside the point, isn’t it? Back to October! As a member of the HAI, I got to see first hand just how big of an event the Empty Bowls Chili Cook-Off became this year. The partnerships that happened were textbook examples of collaboration. Our Hunger Awareness Initiative partnered with the Ceramics Guild on campus and, in turn, our schools of study partnered: the Elliott School of Communication and the School of Art, Design, and Creative Industries. Additionally, the Ulrich Museum of Art jumped in to help us network with the arts community in Wichita and even hosted an auction preview during the week leading up to the event.
There were actually quite a few mini-events, or elements, that led up to our Empty Bowls Chili Cook-Off on the 24th. In preparation for the main event, we hosted Emma Draghi, our first ever WSU Empty Bowls Ceramic Artist-in-Residence, from Florence, Italy. There were Build-a-Bowl days where we invited students, their families, and the community to physically help build bowls that would be available for selection at the event. As the time drew closer for the chili cook-off, there was a Paint-a-Bowl with Emma night open to the Wichita arts community and individuals who wanted to meet and create with our resident artist.
The day of the Empty Bowls Chili Cook-Off was a whirlwind. With over 700 people in attendance (more than twice the number we had in 2014), it was a day packed with chili, beautiful art, and that really good feeling you get in your stomach when you know that you are a part of something that’s going to impact people’s lives directly. So, say you are one of those 700, what did their experience look like? Upon arrival they received their “kit” for the day. It included a program guiding them through the event, a ticket to exchange for their bowl, a spoon, a bean (to cast their people’s choice vote for “Best chili”), and ramekins (to sample the different chilis). Individuals were then free to explore our event space. They could browse the silent auction or pick out their favorite items that would be up on the live auction later, or purchase t-shirts and buttons commemorating the event and the Hunger Awareness Initiative, or advertising out Rave Against Hunger which would be held several weeks later. Many, however, went straight to the tables overflowing with beautiful bowls, chose a bowl, and exchanged their ticket. Then, it was on to the chili cook-off. There were 52 chili entries. Half of the old gymnasium where the event was held was lined with crock pots. If you liked chili, it was glorious. If you didn’t like chili, the creamy chicken gnocchi, tomato basil, and vegetable soups were equally as glorious. We continued our long standing collaboration with SODEXO, the campus food provider; they provided desserts, drinks, napkins, bowls, and plasticware. Additionally, the two on-campus chefs had their own challenge going to see whose dish would be the crowd favorite. Collaboration was around every corner. Raffle tickets were available to purchase, as well, and over the course of the day we gave away over $2,000+ donated goodies. Local radio station, KMUW plugged us leading up to the event, and Amanda Jaeger, anchor at KWCH, emceed the entire event with us.
After an eventful day, I was blown away when I heard our final counts. The 2015 Empty Bowls Chili Cook-Off raised a total of $16,000 for the Kansas Food Bank. That translates to 68,000 meals for our community. That still leaves me in awe today.
Last semester our HAI core leadership team of no more than a handful of people partnered with businesses, organizations, departments, clubs, and individuals to make a real and tangible impact in our community. It was beautiful to witness. An experience I was so privileged to be a part of and one I look forward to being a part of in the future.