Empty Bowls fundraiser draws record attendance

A record number of attendees converged on the Dick DeWees Community and Senior Center on Wednesday to enjoy bowls of soup and aid an important community resource.

More than 600 members of the Lompoc community attended the 12th annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, which benefits the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

Although monetary figures weren’t immediately available after the two-hour event, the large turnout, along with the proceeds raised from a raffle and silent auction, had organizers anticipating a total of at least $30,000.

“I think this was our best year ever,” said Alice Down, who co-chaired the fundraiser with Trish Jordan. “All the stars aligned.”

Attendees who made a $25 donation were given a unique ceramic bowl to enjoy a simple meal of gourmet soup and bread.

The meal was symbolic of wholesome and hearty food that the Foodbank provides for the hungry in the Lompoc region.

One Lompoc resident who worked at Wednesday’s event as a volunteer photographer said his reason for becoming involved was particularly personal.

“I’ve actually been a recipient of using the Foodbank when I went through my divorce,” said Shawndel Malcolm, who was in his second year volunteering at Empty Bowls.

“So for me, I just know how valuable it is to our community to have a resource like this and to be able to have food to supplement your income.”

The event included about 110 gallons of soup from 16 various food services, including restaurants and caterers as well as residents.

Judi Monte, a development manager with the Foodbank and one of the event’s organizers, said each dollar raised at the event will equate to about eight meals, thanks to the Foodbank’s collaboration with 34 programs run by local nonprofit and faith-based organizations.

All the money raised at the Lompoc event will remain in Lompoc, she said.

“Everything about this event is bigger and better,” she said as Wednesday’s fundraiser neared its conclusion. “But that matches with what we’re doing: The Foodbank is giving more food to Lompoc, and this is the only fundraising event that we do in Lompoc, so it’s really nice that it’s growing.”

Lompoc resident Mary Harvey, who helps sponsor the event each year, said one of the things she enjoys about the event itself is being able to catch up with people whom she usually only sees at Empty Bowls.

“It’s a really nice local community event — and the soup is really good,” Harvey said. “I think it’s important for people to see each other and see that we’re all supporting people who need help.”

The event’s growth did present some logistical issues.

Finding seating was a problem for some of the attendees who arrived during times of peak attendance.

That’s something that Monte said will be discussed when planning begins for the 2017 event. One option, she said, could involve separate seating times in an effort to split up the crowd.

When asked about potentially changing venues, Monte praised the staff at the DeWees Center and said she doesn’t know of a larger space in Lompoc that would be able to house the event.

Another concern is acquiring the bowls themselves.

Monte said finding enough bowls, which are each handcrafted, is always a concern.

Currently, the organizers rely on student groups — from local grade schools to Hancock College — to create many of the dishes that are used.

“We’re gonna have to up our count next year,” Monte said of the bowls.

“It’s a challenge,” she added, noting it is a good problem to have. “We’ll have to start making them earlier.”