Empty Bowls Returns for 2021 Community Giving Event

Written by Julie Butner, President & CEO of Tarrant Area Food Bank

Because of the pandemic, we all occasionally find ourselves reminiscing about the events we attended before knowing how drastically our world would change. The same is true for me and my colleagues at Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB). When I arrived at TAFB in January 2020, the word pandemic seemed fictional and foreign. Too soon, we would be readjusting almost every aspect of our operations to keep everyone safe. Throughout all this, our signature annual event was put into jeopardy, and we asked ourselves: would we be able to proceed with Empty Bowls 2020?

For those unfamiliar, Empty Bowls is a national campaign that began as a collaboration between artists and food banks. Local artists recognized that there were empty bowls in their communities needing to be filled, so they would create and sell handcrafted bowls with proceeds benefiting their local food bank. The event grew throughout the years until it became an annual extravaganza.

In 2019, Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Empty Bowls event was held at the Will Rogers Coliseum where 2,000 guests received a bowl, perused a sampling of local cuisines, and participated in exciting live auctions with all proceeds benefiting TAFB. To put it simply, Empty Bowls was a cornerstone in not only TAFB’s fundraising, but also with the community here. It brought in 1.5 million meals while also educating people about hunger.

When COVID-19 struck, cancelling our signature annual event was the last thing on our minds, but it was ultimately the measure we had to take for the safety of our guests. When the discussion about Empty Bowls arose again in 2021, it became clear to us that to make Empty Bowls work during a pandemic, we had to completely reverse the way it was previously done.

I’m thrilled to announce that Empty Bowls is back in 2021, but it looks a bit different. Rather than being a donor event, we’ve transformed Empty Bowls into a mega food distribution. Supporters who give to our online Empty Bowls donation form will virtually donate boxes of food for a family to receive at an Empty Bowls Mega Mobile Market on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

Brenda arrived at the Aiken High School food distribution with her 3 great-grandchildren. The family received meal packs for the kids to eat over Spring Break, when schools aren’t providing meals. “This food means they won’t go hungry. They will have something to eat,” she says. “We’ve been really dependent getting the food from the school, and I don’t know if we could make it without this.” Brenda and her family are currently sheltering in place at a campsite to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus. “We’re out at the campsite, and we’re staying right there to keep everybody safe and keep everybody together,” she says.

Mega Mobile Markets provide groceries directly into the cars of people in need with each one serving upwards of 3,000 families. By participating in Empty Bowls this year, you will sponsor the boxes we hand out to families who attend the mega distribution, thereby ensuring your funds are going directly to help our neighbors.

And the time to get involved has never been more critical than now. Even before the pandemic, about one in seven individuals in TAFB’s 13-county service area was considered food insecure. Because of the pandemic, however, rates are escalating like never before with many people needing food assistance for the first time in their lives. We are helping twice as many people as we were before.

Giving to Empty Bowls will make huge progress toward helping your neighbors get back on their feet, and it also has fun in store for you! Tarrant Area Food Bank will return to Dickies arena on Friday, March 26 for a donor appreciation event. (Hint: this is where you can come get a bowl!) Take your lunch break or an afternoon drive to receive your bowl at a contactless drive through event. It will be so nice to see your faces again after missing you in 2020, so we can’t wait!

The pandemic has reshaped how we—not just TAFB but all workplaces—conduct business. Throughout this change, though, one thing has stayed the same: the Fort Worth and Texan spirit to help out. We know that we are not deterred by hardship or change, which is why we’re so eager to work together to provide meals for thousands of kids and adults whose bowls are empty right now. To buy a virtual box for a family in need, visit tafb.org/empty-bowls. We hope to see you on March 26! Until then, stay safe and stay healthy.

** Mega Mobile Markets are every Friday at Herman Clark Stadium in Fort Worth.

Julie Butner
President & Chief Executive Officer at

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