Soup al fresco: Empty Bowl fundraiser for St. Michael’s Community Kitchen hosted outdoors
Warming wafts of soup complemented the crisp fall air Friday afternoon as people from all over Moffat County came to show their support for St. Michael’s Community Kitchen.
The Empty Bowl fundraiser helps defray costs in feeding homebound residents through sales of handmade bowls and various soups crafted and donated by 10 respective restaurants. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was the first time attendees got to pick their wares and slurp their soups outdoors.
Usually people are invited to enjoy “all you can eat” soup down in the basement of St. Michael’s Catholic Church. COVID-19, however, prompted Yampa Valley Artisans this year to set up portable tables and host the event in the church parking lot.
For Ron Nereson, a Hayden resident who every day growing up used to bike a paper route near St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the outdoor event didn’t stop him from spending money to take home a handcrafted bowl and enjoy some “to-go” soup, which he later ate at a nearby park.
“We’ve come to this (event) for four different years,” Nereson said of him and his wife, Sharon. “We really like to be a part of the fundraiser and we love the bowls.”
Fresh from the kiln and adorned with unique designs gently painted on by a local potters group, the bowls are perhaps the fundraiser’s No. 1 attraction.
Craig resident Cindy Vorhies brought her granddaughters Eden, 5, and Stella Hickory, 8, from Steamboat Springs to choose from a sea of bowls. She said there’s more to attending the event than just basking in the pottery.
“The money goes toward such a great cause,” she said. “There’s so many people that can use the help.”
The Community Kitchen itself provides more than 400 free meals per week to those in need, according to longtime volunteer Robin Schiffbauer. Twice a week, the kitchen hand delivers between 150 to 175 meals to residents, while another 50 or so people show up in-person to St. Michael’s for “grab-‘n-goes,” she said.
And when COVID-19 initially forced millions of Americans out of work, Schiffbauer said the kitchen bolstered their services.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we added a third meal on Saturdays, to help people that were unemployed and caught by surprise,” she said.
From late March to just before Memorial Day, Schiffbauer said the Community Kitchen provided more than 700 meals per week to the public. The extra day was dropped once the weather grew warmer and more people got back to work.
Schiffbauer has operated the kitchen for more than 10 years and has been recognized by the community for her volunteer efforts on numerous occasions. She said community participation is vital for St. Michael’s.
Most years, according to Schiffbauer, the Empty Bowl gathering helps raise more than an average $4,000. This year, after volunteers sold between 350-380 bowls, the event took in $6,000.
“This is our only fundraiser,” she said. “Truly, without the potters and the restaurants and everyone pulling together, we would never have this community event.”
Potters don’t charge money for their highly sought after wares and services.
“That’s all their own – their materials, their time, their everything,” Schiffbauer said of the potters. “And they really believe in the community kitchen and it’s a great way for us to partner with them.”
Tiny Art, Big Heart Gallery
Coinciding with Friday’s Empty Bowl Fundraiser, the Tiny Art, Big Heart Gallery hosted by the Northwest Colorado Arts Council at the Craig Chamber of Commerce & Moffat County Visitor Center also aimed to raise funds for the Community Kitchen.
“The concept of this is, tiny art pieces 4 inches by 4 inches or smaller; and then all the proceeds go to the Community Kitchen at St. Michael’s,” Melanie Kilpatrick, NWAC president, said. “It’s a booster to what’s already happening over there with the Empty Bowl fundraiser. It’s just our way of showing our support for our community.”
With the upstairs walls riddled with hand-size pieces of artwork, as well as complimentary wine available for thirsty guests, people casually toured the exhibit – and later, of course, provided cash donations.
“It’s also a really good show to show our community how approachable art is right now,” she added.
Friday’s efforts didn’t just also help raise funds – it got people out of the house, said Kilpatrick.
“With all the other events not happening this year, I think people are looking for something to do,” Kilpatrick said. “And then also our community kitchen was such a strong support within COVID that it’s a way for people to make sure that we’re still supporting them, to let them know that they were really stepping up their efforts during the pandemic.”
Last year’s art show brought in $800 for the Community Kitchen. And this year, despite a worldwide pandemic, it’s safe to say the event was a success, Kilpatrick said.
“I think we’re on track right now to surpass our $800,” she said.
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