A look back to a story from our WOW! Magazine: The Empty Bowls Project


In August, 2012, we featured The Empty Bowls Project in the 18th issue of our WOW! Magazine. In anticipation of this year’s Empty Bowls event we thought we would revisit this story about organizer Michael Terra.

Lower Town artist Michael Terra organized Paducah’s first annual Empty Bowls Project to benefit the Community Kitchen. “I believe really, really strongly that if you live in a place you need to give back to the place that you live. If you have a way you can contribute, you ought to step up to the plate and do it. When I found out that in our community, the Community Kitchen serves over 50,000 meals a year, I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, that is a huge expression of need. We need an empty bowls project. That’s what we need next,’ ” Terra said. The Empty Bowls Project is an International grassroots effort to help local communities fight hunger. Terra has been involved in four previous Empty Bowls Projects before starting the program in Paducah. He has personally created over 700 bowls and invited the public to his studio to glaze them. “I have a completely unreasonable goal. My completely unreasonable goal is that I would like to be able to hand the Community Kitchen a $10,000 check. That is what I want to do. I know it is unreasonable and completely unrealistic,” Terra said. Turned out, not so! The people of Paducah turned out in force to help Terra reach that unreasonable goal and to go beyond it. Nearly 300 people ranging in age from four to 85 stopped by Terra’s studio this winter to glaze bowls. The finished bowls were sold at the first annual Empty Bowls Project event at the Robert Cherry Civic Center in February.

People purchased a bowl for $15, filled it with delicious food from local restaurants, and were able to keep their bowl as a reminder of the need to help the hungry in Paducah.

Terra wanted the people of Paducah to realize the need for such a project in our area. “When we see the commercial on television to feed the hungry kids in China, we see a little kid and a nice Santa looking guy with a beard and that’s hunger; that’s waaaay over there. And we can write a $20 check and mail that off and feel good about it. Emotionally it’s much, much harder to deal with hunger that your neighbor has,” Terra said.

Terra knows he is fighting an uphill battle but hopes this project raises awareness about local hunger for the people of Paducah.“What we are doing today is not going to solve the problem of local hunger. Local hunger is a complicated issue, it’s a briar patch and what we get to do by supporting a program like this is, we get to see this problem and if we get to see it then we can each take some small action to deal with it. I’m doing what I can to work toward a solution,” Terra said.

The people of Paducah are helping Terra work toward that solution.“Maybe more than any other community that I’ve ever lived in, I think that Paducah and people who live here have more real civic pride than any other place I’ve lived in. It’s wonderful and makes me really happy with our choice to move here. People care about where they live and people care about who they live near. It’s just exciting,” Terra said.

Even more exciting was the opportunity after the project was completed to present a check for $12,500 to the Community Kitchen. Not only did the project meet Terra’s “unreasonable” goal, the response of the community surpassed his initial target. And Terra says that contributions are still coming in. More than $14,000 has now been donated to the Kitchen. Terra hopes to use that Paducah civic pride to grow this event in the years to come. “We made 900 bowls for the project this year. Next year I’d like to hit 1,200,” Terra adds.

UPDATE: The Empty Bowls Project has raised about $20,000 each year for the Community Kitchen.

The 2018 Empty Bowls event takes place Saturday, February 24, from 11:30 AM to 2 PM at the Julian Carroll Convention Center. Some 15 local restaurants will participate, and tickets are $15, and available at the door, or in advance at the Terra Cottage Ceramics Studio, 514 North 7th Street. All of the food is donated, and drinks are provided by Pepsi Mid-America and Etcetera Coffeehouse.