"Waiting in line is what these people do three times a day," she said, gesturing from inside her upstairs office to the Glory Hole clients outside. "They stand in line to get their food, and they don't have a choice of what to eat. Standing in line [at the Empty Bowls event] can give people a sense of what it's like."
"Empty Bowls" is a creative fundraising idea that melds the artistic with the culinary. Ceramic artists make and donate bowls; restaurants donate soup and bakeries bread, and diners who come get to sample a simple soup dinner and take home a completely unique bowl as a reminder that hunger is a constant in the world, and that every person walking around hungry is a unique human being.
Conceived by a schoolteacher in Michigan in 1990, the "Empty Bowls" concept has grown throughout the nation, and was brought to Juneau for the first time last year, sponsored by the Juneau Rotary Club.
"Empty Bowls has become an annual event in many communities in the United States, and we are very excited to again host Juneau's Empty Bowls dinner," said Sharon Gaiptman, chair of the Juneau Rotary Club's Empty Bowls committee.
About 500 diners came to last year's event; this year, Whittaker said organizers have about 600 bowls committed by ceramics enthusiasts from Juneau, Gustavus, Washington State, and also some bowls that were left over from the Anchorage "Empty Bowls" in February. The UAS Ceramics class led by Jeremy Kane, assistant professor of arts, has promised to supply 250 bowls. All in all, Whittaker guessed that there are around 100 potters involved. Bowls range in size from serving platters to paperclip holders, and can serve a variety of purposes once brought home. (The soup at the event isn't actually served in the donated bowls.)
Whittaker was initially worried that soliciting bowls from the community every year would be asking too much of an already generous town.
"When he [Professor Kane] said they could do 250, I knew we could do the rest," Whittaker said. "Everybody is generous when it comes to the hungry and the homeless in this town."
A total of 18 local restaurants and eateries will supply soup and bread, and almost everything has been donated.
"Empty Bowls" moves into Centennial Hall on Saturday, April 23 between 5 and 7 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m., and being there on time is a good idea, since there is bound to be a line.
"It takes people a while to choose the bowl that specifically speaks to them," said Whittaker. So this year, to make the waiting in line more enjoyable, diners will be entertained by Mary DeSmet and Greg Burger in the lobby, and Tom Locher will play the piano for diners inside.
Admission is $25, which includes dinner and a hand-made bowl of your choice. Children under 12 eat for free if they come with an adult with a ticket, but if they want a take-home bowl, they will need their own ticket.