Volunteering: Empty Bowl Hawaii

Originally posted on April 8, 2015.

Every month for the past two or three years I've thought about volunteering. For shelter animals, people in need, our veterans, seniors, perhaps joining a literacy program, being a Big Sister (but what makes me Big Sister material?), perhaps even certifying my dog to visit hospital patients...something. Where the heck do I start? I think they're all important, so which one should I focus on? This overload of worthy causes made me feel overwhelmed, and I simply left it at that for a long time. The feeling of wanting to giving back to my community had been and continues to get stronger, but as much as I would like to seriously take action, a lot of it has only taken place in my head.

A few years ago, however, I did volunteer to help out at the Oahu SPCA. I love animals, especially those who have no home and no one to love them—they have a special place in my heart. So I joined a group of about 15 other people for a Saturday morning orientation that offered lots of information of the day's chores and the possibilities if we stayed on to become regulars. I didn't mind since all volunteers have to begin with several cleaning sessions before moving onto the more enjoyable dog walking. Suffice it to say, I was dead tired after more than four hours of cleaning and scrubbing kennels, equipment and washing blankets. By then I was used to the smell of urine and had fallen in love with some of the dogs who obviously wanted some lovin'. It broke my heart to see them lean against the kennel, wanting to be scratched, petted and comforted. I wish I could have given them all a loving home on my imaginary three-acre property.

At any rate, I was happy to have finally put my volunteer idea into action, and thought it was a solid start to a new outlet. Unfortunately, I never returned.

Beautiful ceramic bowls of every size, shape and design awaiting their owners at Empty Bowl Hawaii. Thanks to the many individuals and organizations who created these one-of-a-kind works of art for a great cause.

This year, I seriously decided to look for a volunteer opportunity, and Empty Bowl Hawaii, set for April 11 (this Saturday), came up on the radar. What's really appealing about this event is that it combines art and good food in support of a worthy cause.

It initially grabbed my attention two years ago when it was last held on Oahu. The first event was held in 2009 by Hawaii Potters' Guild, a non-profit organization committed to supporting and developing ceramic arts and crafts. This local project is part of an international grassroots effort, the Empty Bowls Project, to raise awareness and money to end hunger; it began in Michigan in the 1990s. 

Empty Bowl Hawaii began with 700 bowls. Imagine, it's now grown to 5,000 bowls thanks to the supporting public, businesses, local restaurants who provide the soup, and volunteers who fill the bowls. But more than anything, the event is thanks to the many ceramic organizations and individual potters who donated their time and effort over the past two years. All the proceeds will benefit Hawaii Meals on Wheels, an organization that provides meals and personal contact to elders and individuals with disabilities so they can maintain their independence. And I get to be a part of this!

As a volunteer, I'll be serving the soups, not eating it, unless I purchase my own bowl—fair enough! Coincidentally, a coworker purchased two bowls, so I'll get to enjoy the delicious soups for him and give him the bowls later (though I wouldn't mind purchasing an original bowl for myself!).

Twenty-six restaurants will be serving up yummy gourmet soups. Take a look at this mouth-watering delicious partial list, and see if you're not tempted to purchase a bowl for yourself! Roasted Island Tomato Soup from Michel's at The Colony Surf; Smoked Kalo (Taro) Chowder from Highway Inn in Kakaako; Hawaiian Style Gumbo (Kauai shrimp, Kukui Sausage Company andouille sausage, Ho Farms okra and Hauula tomatoes) from Hula Grill Waikiki; Mama Le's Beef & Jasmine Rice Soup from The Pig & The Lady; and Mama's Thai Coconut Chicken Curry from Tiki's Grill & Bar. I can't wait...I'm personally torn between the Kim Chee Soup from Roy's Waikiki and Creamy Smoked Manhattan Clam Chowder from Stage Restaurant. Soup also comes with bread fresh baked from four local bakeries. And while eating, folks can enjoy live music on two stages.

If you happen to be in the Kakaako neighborhood 6-9 p.m. on April 11, stop by at 445 and 449 Cooke Street/Agora between Auahi and Pohukaina Streets. Your $25 gets you one bowl of soup and a piece of bread (sounds like prison except that the soup isn't something any prisoner would get to eat while incarcerated!). AND you get a beautiful bowl, a reminder that you're making a difference. Note that soups won't be served in the bowl because, seriously, who has time to wash and dry 5,000 bowls?

So, let me ask: Will you be making a difference in your community? Big or small, the size of effort doesn't matter; it's the fact that we make an effort for others that matters. Being a small part of a larger volunteer event is just as important as spearheading a volunteer project that you plan and coordinate. The key is doing for others, and who doesn't feel good doing that?

Oh, I know, one volunteer opportunity doesn't make me the Volunteer of the Year—far from it. But, hey, it's a start!