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Potters and chefs come together for annual Empty Bowls event in aid of local food banks

Ticket-holders could pick their own handcrafted bowl and fill it with their choice of delicious soup

The Sea to Sky Potter’s Guild’s annual Empty Bowls event raised desperately needed funds for food banks in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton earlier this month. A large crowd gathered in the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) on Thursday, May 9 to help neighbours struggling to get food in their fridges. This year’s event is estimated to have raised more than $10,000.

The idea is simple: local potters create breathtaking bowls, while ticket-holders pick their favourite and fill it with soup made by top chefs. Bannock was donated by the SLCC, while Lucia Gelato could also be scooped into handcrafted bowls made by Whistler Secondary students for an additional donation of $15. The event also included a silent auction with exciting prizes.

The fundraiser could not have come at a better time, as food banks struggle to keep up with growing demand. Whistler’s food bank saw more than 5,000 more visits in 2023 than it did in 2022—an increase of 38 per cent in just a year. A total of 1,355 kids visited the food bank in 2023, which is now trying to raise $75,000 before mid-June to ensure no one goes hungry.

Director of fundraising and community engagement for the Whistler Community Services Society, Dave Clark, spoke about the growing demand at the Empty Bowls event.

“We are seeing numbers that are five to six times higher at the food bank than we saw in 2019,” he said. “With the state of the current economic conditions and the cost of living continuing to remain high, the forecast is that demand will remain high. I don’t see a change coming anytime soon, unfortunately.”

Clark stressed the need for communities in the Sea to Sky to come together during trying financial times.

“Together we are better. Together we are stronger,” he said. “This event is a really good example of us coming together as a community, in support of our fellow community members who might need a little bit of extra help getting food onto their tables. Our cost of food goes up along with everyone else’s.”

Chef Bruce Worden of Milestones has been involved with the event from the very beginning. “When this event first came about, I offered my services as a chef,” he said. “I just made sure we knew what was in the soups and that there wasn’t any crossovers. I organized everything with the chefs.”

He stressed soup can be a comforting and nutritious meal, especially when you’re hungry. “For a lot of chefs and a lot of people who have worked around food, they know that soup is one of those meals that is typically made out of odd ends,” he said. “This is a really great opportunity to give back. Every restaurant sees it, from the food costs to just the cost in general going up. I think it’s more important than ever to give back to the community. Great food warms the soul.”

Ruby Bryan is the brains and the hands behind RB Pottery in Squamish. She has been involved with the guild for more than a year, and has reaped the benefits. She said people without their own studios could also make bowls at workshops ahead of the event.

Bryan’s business is now two years old.

“I was in a job that wasn’t fulfilling my happiness. I got back into this as a hobby,” she said. “I had just had a couple of opportunities to turn it into a full-time thing, with classes and workshops. It’s such a growing thing within the community.”

Bryan said the guild brings the Sea to Sky artists together.

“You can see that every style is different. We can all learn from each other,” she said. “This event is crucial. It makes a huge difference.”

Chair of the guild, Stephanie Lowe, is just about to finish her term, during which she oversaw two incredibly successful Empty Bowls events.

“The event has been running since pre-COVID,” she said. “It had a couple of years of a break and now it’s back. It brings us together from all over the corridor.”

She hopes in the coming years those learning the craft have a public studio to express themselves in.

“We need to raise awareness about clay in the Sea to Sky,” she said. “The closest recreational studio is in West Vancouver. There needs to be one closer and more centrally located. We would love for any of the communities to do that.