Handcrafted ceramic bowls at the benefit dinner.
Handcrafted ceramic bowls at the benefit dinner.

Family Tradition

Coming from a close yet large extended family, I’ve learned quite a bit about tradition. I spent the first 18 years of my life eating dinner at my grandmother’s house every Sunday and excitedly awaiting holiday parties of more than 50 family members and friends. These moments are some of the most meaningful in my life. So, during my search for a university, this idea was regularly on my mind. I was incredibly fearful that by moving away, I wouldn’t be able to easily experience these traditions again.

In a way, I was right. Sunday dinners and family holidays became less frequent. Fortunately, however, I was able to identify some new traditions at Arcadia that are just as meaningful. Knight Madness, Woodstock, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mr. Beaver—all are great and important to the Arcadia community. But one tradition has become my favorite: the Empty Bowl Benefit Dinner.

Serving soup.

On the third Monday in November, members of the community gather in Grey Towers Castle to buy a handmade bowl, eat a ridiculous amount of soup, and remind themselves of all those who go without food or shelter.

In order to execute the event, the Community Service Office begins preparing in September. We contact ceramic studios, elementary, middle and high schools, as well as Arcadia students, to create 700 soup-worthy vessels. We advertise, collect soup, bread, and dessert donations, and we work with Arcadia staff to plan the event. As the last details fall into place, we reach the night of the event.

People from all over the greater Philadelphia area converge on Arcadia’s campus, eagerly waiting in line. After purchasing a ticket, individuals enter the bowl room, where hundreds of the handcrafted pieces are displayed for their choosing. Once they pick their prize, they move to the soup room, and finally  relax and fill their stomachs. In conjunction with dinner, the especially outstanding bowls are raffled off, and an immense number of canned food items are collected for a local food pantry.

Empty Bowl hasn’t always been such a large scale project. Twenty-one years ago, three students served crockpots of soup to about 30 people. Through that initial idea, a legacy of dedication to the issues of hunger and homelessness was born. On Nov. 17, 2014, more than 700 people enjoyed soup from approximately 30 local restaurants and raised $13,000 to be shared between Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network and Heifer International. Through the tireless efforts of the event’s student coordinators, it has successfully blossomed into one of the most beloved community service events on Arcadia’s campus.

Ceramic bowls that I made for the dinner.

Ceramic bowls that I made.

So, why is it my favorite Arcadia tradition? While I may be slightly biased from working in the Community Service Office, Empty Bowl is my favorite Arcadia tradition because it actively involves so many people in an important cause. Countless individuals, both on and off Arcadia’s campus, come together to make bowls, soup, and positive change for people in need. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in most of the steps of the process, from molding clay to tidying up the castle after the event is over. Through my experiences with this event over the past three years, I have found a new tradition to make me feel at home.

In coming to Arcadia, I was afraid that I would lose the moments that connected my family. While I haven’t been able to go to every Sunday dinner at grandma’s, I have discovered my family connections are far from lost. With each Empty Bowl I attend, I find that my family has grown a little bigger, and I have no doubt that it will continue to grow.

Photos by Jordan Cameron ’17