Empty bowls

Handmade bowls by local students await soup donated by area restaurants at Empty Bowls Aspen 2018.

The handmade ceramic bowls at Bumps restaurant tonight for the 14th annual Empty Bowls fundraiser may start off with nothing in them, but that won’t be the case for long. Soon, as an expected crowd of 500 files in for the community dinner, they’ll be filled to the brim with steaming hot bowls of soup donated by 13 local restaurants, and they’ll be overflowing with the good intentions of the hands that made them.

The event starts at 5 p.m. and costs $10 per person for a bowl that they get to keep and as much soup, bread and dessert as they can eat, and every penny raised goes to Lift-Up, a local food bank serving the underprivileged from Aspen to Rifle. It’s a great event for a worthy cause, and it provides the art staff at Aspen Middle School, Aspen Community School and Aspen Country Day School, whose students make the bowls, a perfect teaching opportunity.

“I do a huge unit on the discrepancy in the distribution of resources,” said Aspen Middle School art teacher and Empty Bowls Aspen cofounder Rae Lampe. “For example, the United States has about 8 percent of the world’s population, but we eat something like 18.5 percent of the food in the world. Africa has more people, but they eat less food. And we talk about money, how roughly 52 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. That’s $730 a year. So we ask the kids, ‘How much would you need to live on for a year?’”

At Aspen Middle School, which is far larger than the other two schools involved, just the fifth-graders make bowls, but at Aspen Community School and Aspen Country Day School, all the kids get involved. For ACS art teacher Hilary Forsyth, who founded Empty Bowls with Lampe, it means that she won’t go into as much depth about hunger as a global issue, but she will take the opportunity to explain why, even here in paradise, there’s a need for charities like Lift-Up to serve the community.

“We talk about hunger and why we keep our money here,” said Forsyth. “I think a lot of kids think of hunger as this thing that doesn’t happen here, so I talk to them about how you can be hungry here and have issues right here in the valley just because maybe somebody in your family lost a job and didn’t have any food.”

At ACS, which averages about 14 students per class in kindergarten through eighth grade, Forsyth sees the same kids making bowls year after year, so she has more time to also teach them about different artistic styles and the various ways of preparing and glazing clay.

“Because the students at our school do it every year, I make sure that they’re always learning something new,” said Forsyth. “Every year the students focus on a specific artist or type of art or something related to a thing we’ve learned. For instance, the kids in kindergarten learned about Jackson Pollock, so they splatter-painted their bowls, and the third- and fourth-graders learned about ancestral Puebloans earlier in the school year, so we tied that in with ancestral people from around the globe and learned about aboriginal dot painting from Australia. So their bowls are inspired by that.”   

While one might assume that making the same bowls each year could grow tiresome for the kids, Forsyth believes the feeling of doing good keeps that from happening.

“Sometimes when things repeat, as a teacher, you get some pushback from students, especially once kids get into middle school,” she said, “and I never hear any of that about this project from my students. So I think it’s great that the excitement is alive with making the art and sharing the art with others. It’s just a great event all around.”

The charitable spirit extends to the parents from ACS and ACDS, many of whom donate desserts or volunteer to ladle out soup or wash dishes. And as is often the case in Aspen, the event brings out the best in the rest of the community, including Paradise Bakery, which donates 500 desserts; Clark’s Market, which donates 500 loaves of bread; the Aspen Skiing Company, which essentially lets the schools rent Bumps for labor costs only; the Aspen Thrift Store, which covers those costs with a yearly grant; and Butcher’s Block, Jour De Fete, Cache Cache, Home Team BBQ, Meat and Cheese, ACDS Café, Jimmy’s, The Big Wrap, Caribou Club, Brick Pony Pub, Union Kitchen, Sage at the Snowmass Club and Aspen Caterers, all of whom are donating five gallons of soup.

Amazingly, with all the food and people, Empty Bowls is a zero-waste event, which only adds to its selfless bent. The bowls go home with their purchasers, everything that can be composted is composted, and everything else – cups, silverware and serving dishes – is washed and reused.

The hugely popular event becomes a de facto kids party once the soup has been slurped, and there will be entertainment provided by choirs from ACDS and ACS’s third and fourth grades, with piano accompaniment. With both schools involved in their entirety for the last 13 years (ACDS came on in year two after Forsyth didn’t have enough bowls for everyone in year one), it’s a pretty big event on the social calendar. And while it may not be as big a deal for AMS, it’s still something that Lampe and her fifth-graders couldn’t be more proud to be a part of.

“I’m very interested in the service learning part of it and the giving,” said Lampe. “I think it’s important for them to feel like making art and giving it that way is a way to give back to the community.”

Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.

Special Sections Editor