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Empty Bowls adjusts for COVID-19

Although COVID-19 has changed how this years Empty Bowls Arts Festival will look, the Airdrie Food Bank (AFB) intends to use the event to show its gratitude to the community.
Although hand-painted bowls will not be available, Airdrie Food Bank will still sell handcrafted pottery bowls at the Airdrie Farmers' Market as part of its modified Empty Bowls festival. Photo Submitted/Airdrie City View

Although COVID-19 has changed how this year's Empty Bowls Arts Festival will look, the Airdrie Food Bank (AFB) intends to use the event to show its gratitude to the community.

“People are, of course, sad,” said Christine Taylor, AFB’s events, marketing and communication manager. “It’s some people’s favourite event…but everybody’s been so supportive. COVID may have changed a lot of things, but the support in our community for the food bank has not changed. We’ve had a tremendous amount of support, especially on the individual level.”

The Empty Bowls Arts Festival typically takes place in September at AFB’s warehouse. In the past, visitors could browse and purchase brightly painted bowls, enjoy a bowl of soup and take part in various youth activities.

Because of the pandemic, the event will look much different this year, Taylor said, but she emphasized the organization still felt it was important to thank the community for its ongoing support.

“We decided the safety of our volunteers, our community and our staff was the most important thing to us,” Taylor said. “Even though all of our major events have been cancelled – all of our major food drives and any of the initiatives that other people do for us – we felt like we still wanted to not completely cancel Empty Bowls.”

Instead of holding a large-scale event at AFB’s warehouse, the food bank will set up at the Airdrie Farmers’ Market Sept. 16 and 23 to sell pottery bowls, Taylor said.

In past years, members of the community painted bowls at parties in August, which were then sold at the event. This year, Taylor said, those parties could not go ahead, and AFB will instead be selling glazed pottery bowls from the British Columbia studio Mud, Sweat and Tears. According to Taylor, the studio has made more than 4,000 bowls for AFB's current and past Empty Bowls events.

The food bank will also host an online auction for 20 large bowls that are usually auctioned off in-person at the event.

“What we’ve done this year is selected artists in Airdrie – they’re all local artists – to paint up to twenty bowls,” Taylor said, adding the large bowls will be painted by Mayor Peter Brown, Coun. Tina Petrow, Veronica Funk, Cindy Zampa and several other artists.

The online auction will run from Sept. 16 to 30. Proceeds from the bowl sales and the auction will go to AFB.

Then, on Sept. 26 – the day the festival was scheduled to occur – AFB will hold a Thanksgiving food drive at grocery stores around the city. Taylor said AFB volunteers will collect Thanksgiving food items that will be distributed in the lead up to the holiday season.

Taylor said every grocery store in Airdrie has been invited to participate in the drive, and AFB is still confirming which ones will take part.

“With all of our major food drives…we’re trying to look into the future for this coming holiday season,” Taylor said. “We know that it’s going to be difficult for people.”

According to Taylor, the number of new users at AFB is “way up” this year because of the pandemic. This has made AFB’s services and continued community support vital.

Ben Sherick,
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