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Empty Bowls

Handmade pottery bowls sold this year to help the hungry come filled with soup. "The soups will be tasty but simple," says Ruth Coulthard, office manager for Peace House.

A soup supper is Peace House's strategy for revitalizing the annual Empty Bowls fundraising event, started almost 20 years ago by Clayfolk and then taken up by Soroptimist International of Ashland. When those two groups could no longer put it on, Peace House stepped in, not only to ensure support for its Uncle Food's Diner but also ACCESS Inc. and Food Angels.

"I think that's really nourishing the soul of our community," says volunteer event coordinator Zoe Alowan.

Guests will dine at Uncle Food's, which serves free meals to anyone in need every Tuesday in Wesley Hall at Ashland's First United Methodist Church. On the special menu for supporters May 11 are potato-leek soup, vegetarian minestrone, Moroccan-style lentil soup, fresh-baked breads and desserts. A $25 ticket buys the meal and a handmade bowl to fill with soup, empty and then take home.

Nearly all of the 200 bowls donated to the event were fashioned by Southern Oregon University ceramics student Emily Matekel for her senior project, with help from other SOU art students, says Alowan. Advance ticket-holders can enter the hall early to have their pick of the bowls. Several other "extraordinary" pieces, such as ceramic vases and sculptures, also will be for sale to benefit the charities, says Alowan.

Empty Bowls began more than 20 years ago in Michigan and has spread to artist societies across the country. Past events held locally have raised more than $35,000 combined.

Like other hunger-relief groups, Uncle Food's has seen only more demand in recent years. Meals served increased by about 30 percent this year, which reflects a 50 percent increase in the numbers of children and families dining, says Coulthard. Peace House has no income criteria for meal recipients, she adds.

Soup is an Uncle Food's mainstay, and they've only gotten better, says Coulthard, since Peace House hired caterer Maren Fay as kitchen coordinator several months ago.

"She knows how to make delicious food out of really unusual things," says Coulthard, recalling a soup Faye made out of romaine lettuce. "I would have never even thought of that."

Faye notes that soup is the perfect solution for "odds and ends," whether donated to charity or left over in the home kitchen.

"Spices and herbs are really important to liven things up," she says. "You kind of just have to use your imagination."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.