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Empty Bowl fundraiser reaches its 25 year

ReBecca Paddock (left) and Susan Sauls examine another bowl during Monday’s Sea of Bowls event at the Depot, ahead of today’s main Empty Bowl fundraiser for Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. The two women have missed only two of the 25 Empty Bowl events. “We’re happy; we have bowls,” Paddock said. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Shoppers look for bowls they like at Monday’s Sea of Bowls event. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

For Susan Sauls and ReBecca Paddock, it's not enough just to come to the Sea of Bowls, the Monday evening preview ahead of Tuesday's Empty Bowl fundraiser for Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank.

They have to be first.

"There's a competition of who gets in front of the door first to wait," Sauls said, as the Blue Water Big Band offered brassy accompaniment in the Duluth Depot's Great Hall, where tables were covered with eye-catching pottery.

Longtime friends Sauls and Paddock lost the friendly competition last year, they said, so this year they showed up at 3:30 p.m. — for an event that would begin at 5.

Their devotion illustrates the passion people seem to feel about an event that shows no signs of getting old in its 25th year.

Empty Bowl's enduring fan base continues to impress Shaye Morris, executive director of the food bank for 20 of those years.

"I am still surprised (about) the level that people are so engaged," Morris said. "People are still coming, and they're still buying bowls."

After growing quickly in its early years, the event has stabilized to an annual total of between 2,500 and 3,500 bowls, she said. Yearly net proceeds consistently are around $49,000, all of which goes to the food bank.

Dave Lynas never imagined it would last this long, he said. Lynas, inspired by a similar event in Mesa, Ariz., was one of two artists who separately proposed the idea that became Empty Bowl a quarter century ago.

"It's been very gratifying to me to see it grow and continue to have support from the art institute and the food bank, and for them to really like it and embrace it," said Lynas, 73.

Over the years, Lynas has donated at least 2,000 bowls for the event, he said. Several of his creations were among those displayed for Empty Bowl's silent auction, which will continue today. For the online auction, he's offering "Queen Lena," a banjo he crafted.

Sauls and Paddock's history with the event go back as far as his. They've missed only two Empty Bowl events, and when Paddock moved from Duluth to Michigan a couple of years ago it wasn't about to end the tradition.

"It's a friend thing," Paddock said.

"It's an annual date night," Sauls added.

The women had a broad choice of bowls ranging from earth tones to bright colors, from practical to whimsical.

It was early, and neither woman had a bowl in her hands. But that was deceiving; the bowls they'd already chosen had been set aside, they said.

"Right now I have six," Sauls said. "But I haven't been downstairs yet. ... I always say I'm only going to take one. I'm really not sticking to my goal. Every year I don't think I've made it."

If you go

What: Empty Bowl fundraiser for Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank

When: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. today

Where: The Depot, 506 W. Michigan St.

Cost: Admission is free, including soup prepared by local chefs. Handcrafted bowls are $20 each.