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Empty Bowls help fill bellies, food coffers

The annual fundraiser will help Uncle Food’s Diner maintain meal services that have increased greatly during the pandemic

ASHLAND — This weekend, a group of local VIPs will show their support for Uncle Food’s Diner by delivering handmade ceramic bowls purchased for the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser to the doors of ticket holders.

Empty Bowls, a growing international concept intended to fight food insecurity, invites people to purchase an empty, hand-thrown ceramic bowl, “emblematic of the plight of our unhoused and economically marginalized” residents, according to Peace House.

The fundraiser, now in its ninth year, supports meal services through the year’s coldest months, when winter temperatures often worsen conditions for people facing food insecurity, said Peace House Executive Director Elizabeth Hallett.

Uncle Food’s Diner has served more than 50,000 meals since the pandemic moved food service outdoors and the program “ramped up” from one to four days per week last March. Higher food prices, economic challenges and the increased scale of the program placed financial pressure on the organization, leading to uncertainty about how long the new level of service could continue, Hallett said.

“We believe that everyone deserves to eat, without question,” said Maren Faye, Uncle Food’s Diner project coordinator and chef. “Our kitchen’s meal service helps people in our community fill the gap when they face hunger and food insecurity.”

People signed up to deliver bowls Dec. 4 and Dec. 5 include State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert, Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara and Ashland City Councilors Tonya Graham, Paula Hyatt, Stephen Jensen and Stefani Seffinger.

The ceramic bowls were crafted by members of Clayfolk, Southern Oregon and Northern California Potters’ Association.

A network of community partners ensures a free meal is available to those in need seven days a week, according to Peace House, incorporating contributions from the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, Food Angels, Southern Oregon Jobs With Justice, Monday Meal Team, United Methodist Church, grocery store staff, food pantry volunteers, food preparation staff, delivery drivers and more volunteers.

“It is hard to recognize the face of food insecurity because it can hide itself very well,” Councilor Paula Hyatt said. “[The partners] are part of the fabric of providers … that meet this need with a tireless mission.”

Coordinators and volunteers who serve regular meals deserve recognition as “true heroes” in the community, she said.

“Ashland is really incredible in the way its residents come together and truly embrace taking care of community,” Hyatt said. “Coming into the holiday season almost two years into COVID, it really is one of those bright lights at a time when you really need it — that we have folks in this town that consistently do this work because they’re called to do it and for no other reason.”

To buy a bowl, see the Peace House webite at https://peacehouse.net/2021/11/03/please-support-uncle-foods-diner-empty-bowls-2021/

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.