Empty Bowls Fundraiser Gets Greener in 2024

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Empty Bowls 2024

Interfaith Community Services (ICS) is planning the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser with sustainability in mind. ICS is taking actions to minimize the environmental impact of the 13th annual event, to be held on Saturday, March 2 at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center.

The first Empty Bowls event in the country was held in 1990 to address food insecurity in a Michigan community. Empty Bowls events are now held around the world, all with the same basic premise: people share a simple meal, then take home a handmade bowl to keep as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. All funds raised are used to fight hunger in the local community.

Empty Bowls at ICS has grown dramatically since the first event in 2012. Last year, more than 1,000 people attended. Ticket sales, sponsorships, and silent auction and raffle proceeds totaled almost $50,000 more than the previous year.

“The 2023 Empty Bowls fundraiser was the most successful one yet for ICS, but that success was bittersweet,” says Andrea Dillenburg, director of development and communications at ICS. “The event committee was thrilled that the money we raised last year allowed us to help more people in need than ever before, but the amount of trash collected at the event was sobering. We believe we can have the same positive impact on the community without negatively impacting our environment, so we set out to make some changes for this year’s event.”

Focusing on minimizing the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill, event organizers enlisted help to carry out their vision. A Green sponsor was secured to offset the cost of replacing plastic utensils and bags with compostable options, and providing compostable cups and reusable aluminum bottles for water.

Staff from the Office of Sustainability at the University of Arizona eagerly agreed to be the Green Partner for the event. Through the Compost Cats Bucket Program, ICS is borrowing 35-gallon compost bins and signage that explains how to sort waste into three separate bins for compost, recycling, and landfill. Compost Cats staff will meet with ICS staff and volunteers prior to the event to provide training and answer questions.

Attendees at Empty Bowls 2024 will notice these greener features at this year’s event:

  • No more single-use plastic water bottles. Guests are asked to bring their own water bottles to fill at provided water stations. Paper cups will be available for those who do not bring bottles.
  • Bamboo utensils will replace plastic spoons and knives.
  • Recyclable and compostable paper table coverings will replace plastic tablecloths.
  • Artisan bowls will be packaged for guests in recyclable paper bags instead of plastic.
  • Food will be served in compostable bowls, so bowls and food scraps can all be composted together.
  • Green volunteers will be stationed near all waste collection bins to help sort and separate compost, recycling, and trash.

Hosting a greener Empty Bowls event is just one way ICS is striving to lessen its environmental impact. Food Bank volunteer Jamie Roach launched the effort in the Northwest Food Bank. “Unfortunately and unavoidably, there is a lot of plastic waste associated with operating a food bank,” says Roach. “Several ICS volunteers are trying to mitigate the amount of plastics headed to the landfill, so we gather the plastic waste at the food bank on a daily basis and transport it to one of the city’s collection sites to be recycled into plastic building blocks, where they will possibly be used to build tiny homes for the unhoused.”

When Roach learned ICS wanted to take a greener approach and reduce the amount of single-use plastic at Empty Bowls, she generously offered to financially support the event as the Green Sponsor. She has also signed up to lead the volunteer team that will bus tables and oversee the waste collection bins at the event. The passion she brings to transforming Empty Bowls is in keeping with the way she lives her entire life: “As best I can, I live a sustainable life. I harvest water. I compost. I have solar panels on my home. I try to follow the 5 R’s—refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle. I spend (too) much of my time thinking about plastic waste and what it’s doing to our environment and our health, and about what more I can do to influence others to buy/use less plastic.”

For more information and to buy your tickets please visit icstucson.org/emptybowls.