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Food Bank Bowl Making

Down Under Pottery owner Kathleen Grossman (center) sits with students Lindsay Rogers (left) and Karna Cronn on Saturday. Grossman and her students make about 1,000 soup bowls every year for the Empty Bowls Luncheon, which raises money for the Food Bank of Lincoln.

It takes a couple minutes for Kathleen Grossman to throw one soup bowl on a potter’s wheel, but 12 hours to fire it twice so the clay and glaze harden properly. 

Making a thousand bowls — each complete with a unique design and glaze — takes about 10 months.

So once Grossman and her students finish preparing for each year's Empty Bowls Luncheon, she starts planning for the next one.

This year, Grossman's Down Under Pottery studio will supply the all-important ceramics for the 16th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at Embassy Suites in Lincoln.

The event raises money for the Food Bank of Lincoln by selling $25 tickets to the public to taste-test bowls of soup from 14 locally owned restaurants. Each person who buys a ticket goes home with a soup bowl.

The luncheon usually is sold-out by mid-May, but a limited number of tickets remain to buy at the door.

Grossman runs Down Under Pottery from her home. She teaches five classes a week to students of different experience levels.

The idea for a fundraiser blossomed the night after 9/11, when Grossman and her students held a pottery sale and donated the money to the community.

“I just wanted to do something to give back during that hard time,” Grossman said.

The next year, Grossman paired with Scott Young, director of the Food Bank, to hold the first luncheon. She made 250 bowls and it was a huge success, she said.

The second year, Grossman made 500 bowls, then 650 the next. Each year the number gradually increased until it reached 1,000 for the past few years. This year she'll furnish 1,015 bowls.

“Each year, we expect around 900 to 1,000 people to show up,” Young said. “I love this event (and the fact that) the Food Bank can turn money raised from this event into so many meals.”

The Food Bank can turn every dollar it receives into about three meals, and the Empty Bowls Luncheon has raised $1 million since it started.

The bowls — plus the time and supplies needed to make them — are donated by Grossman and about eight of her students every year, she said. They would normally sell for about $20 apiece.

The effort is beyond worth it: Making bowls has actually saved her life, she said.

“It’s very therapeutic and mentally very calming,” Grossman said. “The nice thing about making bowls is that I don’t have to think a lot when making them. They’re not for anyone specifically, so I can experiment all I want.”

John Schlife says making bowls has helped him, too. He used to live along the Kansas-Nebraska border, commuting to the studio, before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and moved to an assisted-living facility in Hebron.

“It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever done,” Schlife said. “Before I got Parkinson’s, I drove over 100 miles every week for 17 years just to do pottery with Kathleen. She made it so I could use it as a therapy to keep me from getting any worse.”

Schlife now takes a bus and visits the studio every other week to make bowls, Grossman said.

“People are very grateful (for the luncheon),” she said. “We are sold-out every year. But it’s terribly sad that we even have to have this event.”

Grossman enjoys watching people pick out their bowls at the luncheon. They always move slowly around the tables covered with bowls of all different colors: bright mustard yellow, dark navy, speckled green, eggshell white. Sometimes people take a bowl and keep it with them a while, then return it for a different one.

“A couple of years ago a mother with two little girls came up to me afterward and told me how grateful they were,” Grossman said. “They explained how much the Food Bank changed their lives. It’s incredibly fulfilling for me to do this every year.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or lwagner@journalstar.com.

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City desk intern

Summer 2018 city desk intern for the Journal Star.

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