Full bowls and bellies

Wood Buffalo Food Bank’s fundraising festival feeds sold-out crowd

By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor

Paul McWilliams, board chair of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, was busily volunteering at the sold-out Empty Bowls Festival at the Jubilee Plaza on September 17. Photos by Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Paul McWilliams, board chair of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, was busily volunteering at the sold-out Empty Bowls Festival at the Jubilee Plaza on September 17. Photos by Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Paul McWilliams couldn’t stop smiling. And, with good reason too. The inaugural Empty Bowls Festival hosted by the Wood Buffalo Food Bank (WBFB) sold-out in an hour-and-a-half. Hundreds gathered to purchase one of 500 handmade bowls, and sample food from local vendors at the Jubilee Plaza on September 17.

McWilliams, WBFB’s board chair, was also volunteering at the festival. He shared on the event’s background.
“The brainchild was Arianna Johnson, our executive director. We knew Empty Bowls has been done successfully in other communities, and wanted to try it. It’s been an incredible day, and incredible turnout. The hand-crafted bowls were made by the Fort McMurray Potter’s Guild,” said McWilliams, who has been the Food Bank’s board chair for three years now, and has been in Fort McMurray for 11 years.

Local artists Reinalie Jorolan and Ruth Perry volunteers at the art station. The two took part in putting together the “YMM Community Tree”, which is a mural made from the footprints of hundreds of community members. The artwork will be placed within the Wood Buffalo Food Bank.

Local artists Reinalie Jorolan and Ruth Perry volunteers at the art station. The two took part in putting together the “YMM Community Tree”, which is a mural made from the footprints of hundreds of community members. The artwork will be placed within the Wood Buffalo Food Bank.

“We had some incredible food vendors (nine in attendance ranging from The Keg to Chartwells to Blue Mountain Bistro to name a few). Thanks to John Wilson of Hedco Group. They’ve been incredible presenting partners in making this happen.”

McWilliams, who is also the Community Manager for Servus Credit Union, added, “I refer to Food Bank’s staff as superheroes. Arianna and her team is incredible. They’ve been pulling 18-hour days, serving 150 clients a day since re-entry. They made sure nobody was returned home. From June 11 to August 30, we did about 8,000 hampers, compare that to 2015 when we did just under 4,000 – in three months we doubled all we did last year. The need is there. The one stat I want people to walk away with today is zero. And, zero represents the number of people who were turned away from the Food Bank. Everybody who needed it, got the support.”

And, while numbers were still being crunched by press time, that support is evident with organizers already promising a bigger and better event for next year.

“The turnout was absolutely incredible. We were overwhelmed with the response to this event, especially since it was our first year and we didn’t know what to expect,” said Anna Noble, Communications and Development Coordinator, Wood Buffalo Food Bank.

Chocolate chili anyone? Executive Chef Kathryn Dimla and Director of Food Services Candace Cheney at the Chartwells station.

Chocolate chili anyone? Executive Chef Kathryn Dimla and Director of Food Services Candace Cheney at the Chartwells station.

“We sold out (early on), but visitors remained steady until the end to enjoy the live entertainment and art. We couldn’t have been happier with the turnout and can’t wait to host this again next year,” she added.

Indeed, attendees who purchased a bowl, and could sample different eateries, also enjoyed visiting stations hosted by Arts Council Wood Buffalo artisans; including painting, improv, balloon art, live pottery demonstrations and more, all of whom donated a portion of their sales back to the food bank.

“It’s been amazing to participate in this event. It has made people interested in pottery too,” said Michelle Major, president, Fort McMurray Potter’s Guild, who was conducting a live pottery demonstration.

“Our goal is to make this an annual event and hope to get our sponsors and partners on board for another year and more ahead. We are already discussing plans for next year. And, want to say that we are thrilled with how this event turned out. It is all thanks to our sponsors, partners and volunteers. We could not have run such a successful event without them. As well, a huge shout out to the community. It was amazing to see everyone come together and have such a great time. It was also remarkable to see how the arts community and local food eateries could combine to make a unique and exciting family event,” said Noble.

– Connect Weekly –