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Fill the bowls to fight hunger

In choosing a soup to prepare for charity, Merrie Gaye gives over some of the process to chance: which ingredients are available, how much time she has and even the day's weather.

But the owner of Spoons, a downtown Medford lunch counter, holds firm to one belief behind her decision: "Nobody should go hungry."

"We have enough food on the planet, and everybody should be contributing," says Gaye.

Spoons started contributing last year, along with seven other local restaurants, to the Empty Bowls Supper, an annual event sponsored by Ashland's Peace House that benefits local hunger-relief groups.

Ten restaurants have taken on the challenge of filling about 250 handmade pottery bowls at this year's event, scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 9, at First United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., Ashland. Goods from four local bakeries will round out the simple meal of soups and stews, says Zoe Alowan, event chairwoman.

"Their response was really generous," Alowan says of local restaurant owners. "They were delighted."

Although the event has been based in Ashland since its inception, Medford and Jacksonville will be represented by Bella Union, C St. Bistro and Howiee's on Front, in addition to Spoons.

Other participating businesses include Amuse, Deux Chats Bakery, Greenleaf Restaurant, Green Springs Inn, Mauren Faye Caterers, Organicos, Pangea, Standing Stone Brewing Co., Tabu and Wiley's World Pasta Shoppe & Eatery.

While people eat, music will be provided by jazz pianist Alan Berman, Blades of Grass, the Peace Choir Ensemble and guitarist Laura Christine, according to the Peace House website.

"We think it is crucial that people become aware of food insecurity here in our valley as well as throughout our country and planet," says Daniel Greenblatt, who owns Greenleaf in Ashland.

"Wasted food is a huge issue on the planet, especially in our country," he says.

Not a drop of soup — including lentil, sweet potato-coconut and Cajun seafood — went to waste from last year's event, says Alowan. After diners filled their bowls, sometimes more than once, Peace House retained leftovers to serve in its Uncle Foods Diner, which puts on a free community meal from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday in Wesley Hall at Ashland's First United Methodist Church.

Uncle Foods shares Empty Bowls proceeds with ACCESS, Ashland Food Bank and Food Angels. Last year's event raised about $4,000, says Alowan.

A handmade bowl to take home is included in the price of each $25 ticket to Empty Bowls. Clayfolk potters, as well as students from Southern Oregon University and Ashland's Helman Elementary School, donate the ceramic pieces.

"So far we haven't run out of bowls," says Alowan.

Clayfolk founded Empty Bowls locally about 20 years ago, patterning it on a similar project in Michigan. The concept has since spread to artist groups around the country. Alowan decided to solicit soups from area restaurants based on the suggestion of Empty Bowls organizers in Nevada.

"People loved having all these different soups."

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Spoons' 13 Bean and Ham soup. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore