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  • Expanding the impact on local childhood hunger in

Altrusa’s Empty Bowls

Audry (not her real name) loves home-baked treats and wants to be a teacher when she grows up. But right now, she’s just 10 years old and home-baked treats are not a part of her life. Her family is homeless. Their “home” is a van and it parks in various store parking lots overnight around town. Her parents are trained technicians who have fallen on some hard times.

Fortunately, Audry does have the Boys & Girls Club to provide snacks for her after school.

Audry’s family is not as rare in Gig Harbor as we might think. A full 25 percent of the children who attend school in the Peninsula School District qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, according to recent figures. A good percentage of them are homeless.

For Audry, changes started happening last summer when she was identified by her teachers as one of 40 students whom The Boys & Girls Club could help with Summer Boost program. Summer Boost is an effort to improve student achievement and is a partnership with the Peninsula School District and the Boys & Girls Club supported by donations. The food for the Boost students, as well as for 85 percent of the other 900 summer camp attendees whose families are qualified for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year, is funded by Altrusa of Gig Harbor’s annual Empty Bowls event.

Branch director for the local Boys & Girls Club, Bernard Rhoades, says that last summer proved the need for Boost and for the food support that Altrusa and Empty Bowls provides. “Food’s one of our basic, core needs. Learning doesn’t happen on an empty stomach,” says Rhoades.

Altrusa has learned a lot over the 37 years it has served children and families in Gig Harbor, and one of the biggest lessons has been the value of the partnerships it has built with businesses, media and organizations in the community. “It takes a village” is not just a hackneyed old saw. It is the truth for these children—and for Altrusa.

Altrusa’s focus on providing a summer lunch program to children like Audry began after research proved that 25 percent of local kids were at risk over the summer. This year’s Empty Bowls event brings so many segments of the community together to make it all work that it’s almost impossible to name them all.

How Empty Bowls Works

Start with the bowls. Local potter Barb Bourscheidt leads a group of pottery and glass artists who live in the area and have been working for a full year (since last year’s event) to create the hand-made bowls that will be sold on February 17. Barb estimates that at least nine of her potters are contributing bowls for the event, and teachers from the Peninsula School District’s high school art classes and their students are also working on bowls to donate.

Once the bowls are purchased at the event, Empty Bowls attendees move on to choose their favorite soup from 14 different local restaurants. Big and small, local restaurants and bakeries jumped on board to help make the event a success.

Sponsors are important too. Peninsula Light adds $1,000 to the pot each year, along with funding from Umpqua Bank and other local nonprofits including two Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis. Individuals sponsor tables provided for the attendees to sit down and have their lunch.

What Empty Bowls does

Thanks to the contributions of so many generous members of the community, Altrusa was able to expand beyond the Boys & Girls Club’s summer lunch program and reach out to provide funding for food at The Red Barn Youth Center on the Key Peninsula as well as the expansion of Food Backpacks for Kids new summer lunch effort. The Red Barn mainly serves junior high age students who live on the Key Peninsula while Food Backpacks for Kids works throughout Peninsula School District.

Sharon Baker, Altrusa president for the 2017-2018 year, is thrilled that the efforts of the club and its foundation have been able to grow over its three-year experience of organizing Empty Bowls but acknowledges that there is still a long way to go.

“Altrusa had a vision of bringing together a broad base of organizations that would serve every child in our community who was at risk of going hungry during the summer when there is no school lunch program. We have succeeded in many respects when you look at all of the individuals and organizations who support Empty Bowls, but we intend to think even bigger and create a permanent plan to sustain these kids. In our beautiful community, no child should go hungry. Ever. And it really does ‘take a village’ to accomplish that.”

Empty Bowls will take place on Saturday, February 17, 11am to 2pm, at the Boys & Girls Club, 8502 Skansie Avenue. Bowls start at $10. For more information, visit or call 253.853.3149.

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