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Thousands of Alaskans unite against hunger at Empty Bowl Project

By Eric Ruble Photojournalist: Rachel McPherron - 5:51 PM March 11, 2017

An annual tradition of charity continued at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center Saturday. Thousands of people participated in the Empty Bowl Project, Bean’s Café’s biggest event of the year.

Its executive director said the fundraiser is particularly important this year, as Alaska’s economic crisis is taxing local non-profit organizations.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to come together, raise awareness about how many hungry people we have in our community and frankly, take action about it,” Lisa Sauder said.

She estimated the event generated $100,000 for Bean’s Café and its programs, like Children’s Lunchbox. For $30, attendees could take home one handmade bowl and have unlimited soup and cornbread. There were more than 1,200 bowls to choose from in all.

“I was really surprised to find out how many children in Anchorage don’t have food, and this is one way that we can help them, plus get some soup and a bowl for ourselves,” said Laura Burzinski, who was attending the event for the first time.

Many bowls were ceramic, but about 430 were wooden. The latter were created by artists with the Alaska Woodturners Association (AWA).

“Try to do something good for people who maybe don’t have as good of fortune in life,” said Bob Congdon, the president of AWA.

He said the process to make a bowl can take nearly one year. Once the tree is felled, the artist must turn the wood once, allow it to “season,” and then turn it again. On Saturday, Congdon was making bowls for next year’s Empty Bowl Project.

“It’s therapeutic. It’s relaxing,” Congdon said. “And at the end of the day, I can demonstrate that I actually have accomplished something, which wasn’t always clear in my other professional pursuits.”

This is AWA’s third year creating bowls for the project. Congdon said about 50 people in the association donated their time to make the bowls, and that they plan to do it again next year.

“That’s just good in society – to have people that are volunteering and helping others out,” Congdon said. “I’m glad to be here.”

This year marks the 23rd year of the Empty Bowl Project.

KTVA 11’s Eric Ruble can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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