In 1998, Daneyl Dean was reading the front page of the News-Press when she came across an article reporting that the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County had served 25,000 people. That number shocked her into action, and led to the creation of Santa Barbara’s first-ever Empty Bowls event.
On Sunday, Ms. Dean — who has served as the event’s host committee chair since its inception — was in attendance as Santa Barbara Empty Bowls marked its 25th anniversary with hundreds of community members coming together to support the Foodbank’s mission of alleviating the often invisible crisis of hunger in Santa Barbara.
Ms. Dean — a local ceramics professional and instructor, as well as a food industry entrepreneur — first heard about the concept of Empty Bowls events from a student who had moved to Florida, but initially assumed that “Santa Barbara is such a wealthy community, we don’t need that.” The News-Press’ reporting changed her mind, and led to the start of what has become a beloved mainstay event in the Santa Barbara community.
“The first year I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll make 200 bowls, maybe 200 people will show up’ — 600 people showed up, and we made $18,000 for the Foodbank,” Ms. Dean recounted. “One lady came up to me and said ‘I’ve been to every major event in this community and none of them have touched my heart like this,’ and she handed me a check for $1,800.”
“This little project has made over $2.5 million (over 25 years),” she continued. “And that’s important — but almost as important is the awareness that it’s given our community about the Foodbank.”
In addition to being able to select a one-of-a-kind, handmade ceramic bowl to take home upon entry, attendees of Santa Barbara Empty Bowls were also able to purchase one-of-a-kind ceramic items and potted succulents in the event’s marketplace. Sunday’s event also featured a silent auction for ceramics made and donated by local professionals, as well as a raffle that offered items such as gift cards to local restaurants, hotel stays, and wine.
Like the event in 2021, this year’s Santa Barbara Empty Bowls forgoed the traditional “community meal” aspect of the event, with attendees instead selecting a serving of soup to take home with them as they exited. This year’s soups were provided by Food from the Heart, who offered attendees the choice of an Asian noodle, curried yam, or Tuscan white bean, kale and sausage soups.
Sunday’s event, which organizers predicted would meet or exceed their goal of raising $120,000, came on the heels of the Foodbank receiving numbers that showed the organization served 111,000 unduplicated individuals between July and September of this year — a figure that represents nearly 25% of the population of Santa Barbara County, and is the highest quarterly number of individuals served by the Foodbank aside from the onset of the COVID pandemic.