Two fundraising events are being held for Community Cooperative at the end of February and beginning of March to raise funds to help eliminate hunger and homelessness in the community.
An event that has gone on sporadically throughout the years, Empty Bowl, is being held again this year on Feb. 26 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers.
Tim Smith, founder and chief executive officer of Sanibel Pottery and an art teacher at Cypress Lake Center for the Arts, said he contacted Community Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Stefanie Edwards to see if they could get the Empty Bowl event going again, which received a yes.
“I am making bowls at the studio. I ordered clay to give out to teachers and they are making bowl with their students in class,” Smith explained.
Edwards said the Alliance for the Arts has been an incredible partner of theirs and always has been. She said they have not held Empty Bowls since 2017, as Hurricane Irma impacted the area and COVID struck. She said now they are getting back to strengthening their partnerships that is already in place with the School District of Lee County.
“The whole concept of the event is really about raising hunger awareness in our community through art. We do that with partnering with the Lee County School District,” Edwards said. “I think we have 16 schools that are participating. We provide the clay and material for students and they create ceramic bowls. Art pieces and only a mother can love pieces and everything in between.”
She said although the amount of folks who participate fluctuates throughout the years, this year’s number of schools participating is great considering art classes are not at the forefront, as it is the first to be cut when budget restraints happen. The students who are creating the bowls range from elementary to high school students.
“This is a great opportunity to learn about ceramics and art. All the art teachers, they are all very aware of how the project works and who is benefiting and why to help eliminate hunger in the community,” Edwards said.
Since receiving the nod of approval, Smith said he opened up the doors to the studio for anyone to come in and make ceramic bowls.
“I have had several teachers come in last Saturday and they made bowls. I had about eight kids come in. They are making some bowls also,” he said.
That opportunity will be offered again on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29 from noon to 5 p.m. for those who would like to glaze a bowl. Sanibel Pottery is located at 15560 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers.
“I think it is a really cool thing. Our organization is also a nonprofit organization. This is the first event that we are doing since we have gone through the process of becoming a nonprofit,” Smith said.
He said he sat down and crunched some numbers as far as how much they can bring in for Community Cooperative.
“I came down to $1.50 to produce a bowl at my studio. That is the cost. We can sell the bowl for about $20,” Smith said, adding that it leaves a $18.50 profit from one bowl they sell. “Stefanie takes $1 and turns it into $8 worth of food. She is able to make a difference in the food that she gets for the Soup Kitchen. If we sell one bowl, that’s $160 worth of food per family.”
Smith was involved in Empty Bowl a long time ago when he worked on Sanibel at A Touch of Sanibel Pottery.
“I am a production potter. I can make a lot of bowls. I am cranking out bowls. Bowls (are being) made by myself, other potters and students in the district,” he said.
The goal, Smith said, is to create 500 bowls.
The bowls are used for the fundraiser at the end of February. Admission is free for kids and $10 for adults 18 and older.
“The bowls are sold at the event and when folks come to the event with a $10 donation for Community Cooperative, you receive a bowl of your choice as a keepsake if you will. A lot of folks use that bowl as their soup tasting bowl,” Edwards said.
The Empty Bowl fundraiser features different vendors who have a soup off, soup tasting competition. Edwards said the vendors use little plastic bowls that attendees will place inside the ceramic bowl for stability while eating.
In addition, the event will also include silent auctions, food trucks, family-friendly activities, dance and music performances by local schools and organizations, as well as a vendor area including local artisans. She said the silent auction items are all ceramic or wooden bowl related.
“Eat outside and really have a good time to raise money for Community Cooperative and its mission,” Edwards said.
Community Cooperative’s largest fundraising event of the year will take place on March 10 at 5:30 p.m. as the 19th annual Soup Kitchen Benefit, which will fill the service garages of Sam Galloway Ford, at 1800 Boy Scout Drive, Fort Myers.
“We were really fortunate with the pandemic times. Our event in 2020 was literally the week before the world shut down,” Edwards said, adding that the 2021 event was held in May instead of its typical time frame of March. “It’s a really important one for us. We are really grassroots. We don’t have a line item in the state budget. We rely on community support.”
Soup Bowl sponsorships are $5,000, Soup Spoon Sponsorships are $2,500 and individual tickets are $200. For further information, visit www.communitycooperative.com/events.
“We have tables for sale and tickets for sale. We are expecting lots of folks to come out,” Edwards said.
The menu, southern style, is completely donated by local vendors and restaurants. Edwards said they have more than 20 donating items from appetizers to salads, dinner, dessert to water and beer.
“It’s all donated,” she said.
The 2021 event had a record number of attendees and raised a record amount of $1.22 million for Community Cooperative.
“Sam Galloway Jr. was one of Community Cooperative’s original founders. He really established this organization almost 40 years ago,” she said. “He passed away in 2021. He started this event 19 years ago. He came to Community Cooperative leadership and said let me throw a party in my garages. Last year, being the first year without him, a lot of memorial gifts were made in his honor.”
The event, Edwards explained as a fun, glorified cocktail and dinner party inside the service garages of Sam Galloway Ford.
“It’s really and truly all about people in our community stepping up and being philanthropic and giving money,” she said. “Honestly I used to attend this event as a guest way before I started working for Community Cooperative. It never seizes to amaze me of how beautiful we can transform these garages. There are cars on lifts around the corner. It’s a working garage. Sam Galloway Ford does such a great job of cleaning it up for us. They have been great partners of ours for many, many years.”
All of the money raised from the two events will go directly back to Community Cooperative’s mission of ending hunger and homelessness.
Community Cooperative offers Meals on Wheels, Soup Kitchen, recently renamed to Sam’s Community Café & Kitchen, mobile food pantries and social service programs.
“That is where the magic is really happening,” Edwards said of the social service program, as she can feed people today, but they will be hungry tomorrow. “If we can figure out why you are hungry and why you need groceries, we can make a difference in your path. That is where we are really making a difference.”
Community Cooperative helped more people in the six weeks following the pandemic shutdown than during the entire previous year, helping more than 85,000 unduplicated individuals in the community.
“I think that often is the misconception for the world at large; I need to support an agency like ours during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was just as busy today as it was the day before Thanksgiving,” Edwards said of 18 days into the new year. “I have an incredible staff who work their behinds off. There are tons of volunteers that help us achieve our mission every single day.”
Every year there are about 120 volunteers who provide a helping hand to the organization. Edwards said although that helps tremendously, they are always in need of more. The slew of jobs run the gamut from chopping vegetables to pulling weeds in their garden.
“If they can’t come to one of the fundraising events, they can still support our missions by volunteering,” Edwards said.
For more information about Community Cooperative, or to seek volunteering opportunities, visit www.CommunityCooperative.com.
Community Cooperative has announced a new date and location for its Empty Bowls fundraiser. Originally set for Feb. 26 at the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers, it will now be held on April 9 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Centennial Park in Fort Myers. The event will be presented by FineMark National Bank & Trust.
“Unfortunately, city of Fort Myers construction at the Alliance for the Arts has made it impossible for us to plan the event there this month,” Chief Executive Officer Stefanie Ink-Edwards said in a prepared statement. “We are pleased to bring back this popular event, now scheduled for April 9 at Centennial Park.”