Empty Bowls
Founders: Lisa Blackburn and John Hartom

Photo on Left by George Etheredge / Photo on Right: An Empty Bowls event in Finland

Photo on Left by George Etheredge / Photo on Right: An Empty Bowls event in Finland

Something worth fighting for: An end to world hunger. 

Progress is made every year, but there are still large strides to take to bring food to those most in need. It was estimated by The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that between 2014 and 2016, 795 million people of the world's total population (one in nine) are suffering from chronic malnourishment. There are numerous organizations focused on providing food to those in need. We’d like to tell you about one of those organizations - Empty Bowls.

Empty Bowls was founded by John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn over 25 years ago. What started as a classroom project, turned into a burgeoning event. This grassroots effort, which focuses on raising awareness and funds to combat hunger, has been hard at work for over a quarter century. The organization began in Michigan in 1990 by Lisa Blackburn and John Hartom, both teachers at the time. The concept developed out of a fundraising drive held in John’s school district. His ceramics students made bowls and served soup to faculty and staff in exchange for a donation to a local food bank. As a reminder of hunger, participants were encouraged to keep their ceramic bowl, now empty, to symbolize both those locally and globally who don’t have enough to eat. The event was a success and became the blueprint for Empty Bowls.

The framework John and Lisa created with Empty Bowls made for a creative and powerful community-run and community-centric event. It didn’t take long for the concept to catch and spread like wildfire. Pretty soon, people were holding Empty Bowls events across the United States and other countries. People all over the world have come together with their communities to make bowls, share a meal, and raise money for the cause. These gatherings, small or large, show people that they have the power to affect change on a local and global scale.

This year, let’s all strive to give back in someway, whether it is donating your time or money. Small ripples make big waves.

Want to host an Empty Bowls Event? Go to for more information. Want to participate in an Empty Bowls Event? MANNA Food Bank in Asheville hosts an Empty Bowls luncheon and dinner.

Read more about Empty Bowls below.


Photos by Dick Kennedy

Photos by Dick Kennedy

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, what you did prior to Empty Bowls.
We are both artists, educators and food justice activists. When Empty Bowls started John was a high school ceramics teacher and Lisa was teaching in private school and community settings. 

How did you come up with the concept of Empty Bowls and what was the push you needed to start it? 
Empty Bowls grew out of a need to raise money for a food drive in the school district (Bloomfield Hills, MI) where John was teaching. His students made ceramic bowls and served a soup luncheon for their faculty and staff. In exchange for a monetary donation for the food drive, participants were invited to keep their bowl as a reminder of hunger. The event proved to be an engaging service-learning project for the students and the pilot for Empty Bowls.

Explain the premise of Empty Bowls and how an event works.
Empty Bowls is an international grass roots, crafts-based effort to fight hunger. The project is decentralized and each group that participates is responsible for their own event. The basic premise remains the same as the first event. Potters, teachers, students, chefs, come together to create bowls and serve a simple meal of soup. In exchange for a monetary donation guests keep their bowl as a reminder of hunger. Money raised through Empty Bowls events is donated to organizations working to alleviate hunger and food insecurity.

What have been the biggest obstacles, or most difficult aspects of launching and running a non-profit?
Time and money.

What have been your biggest successes?
After 25 years the project continues to grow and to engage communities in an effort to end food insecurity. It has spread to over 20 countries and raised millions of dollars. The project stands as an opportunity for people to come together who otherwise may not. Everyone can participate. In the process we all learn about the complex issues of food insecurity and how we can work together to create food secure communities.

What is the most valuable lesson(s) you've learned  or the best advice you’ve received?
That everyone can make a difference and that when we combine our efforts we can have an impact on the issues that affect our communities.

Empty Bowls just celebrated their 25th Anniversary (congratulations). How has Empty Bowls evolved from how it started to what it is now and how do you envision it evolving in the next 25 years?
Everyone who participates adds something to the mix and the project is so much richer for it. It would be nice to see a time when everyone has access to healthy food and adequate nutrition and Empty Bowls would cease to exist.

Photo by Dana Moore. Empty Bowls 25th Anniversary Exhibit.

Photo by Dana Moore. Empty Bowls 25th Anniversary Exhibit.

To-date, how much has Empty Bowls been able to raise to fight hunger? Is there another way to quantify your impact other than monetarily?
Because the project is decentralized, we really don’t know how much has been raised. We have heard countless stories over the years from people who have participated telling us of how the project provided a reason for their neighborhood, potters coop, school, or community to work together and all of the positive outgrowths that resulted.

How can people get involved?
Go to  For people in the area, MANNA Foodbank in Asheville hosts an Empty Bowls luncheon and dinner each fall.

If people want to learn more about the hunger epidemic happening locally, nationally and internationally, what are the best resources available to them? 
Feeding America, based in Chicago, has over 200 regional food banks throughout the US. Their website is an excellent resource for information.