The North Anoka County Emergency Food Shelf's annual "Empty Bowls" event helps stock the pantry to feed hungry people.
Cathy Hereau of Linwood Township knows what it's like to be hungry. When she was a child, money was tight. Often, her family would go without before asking for help. "I don't remember having full cupboards until I was in my late teens," she said.
Today, Hereau volunteers with the North Anoka County Emergency (NACE) food shelf, and tackling hunger has become a passion.
As a "people person," she especially loves to help out with the food shelf's events, including its annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, which is set for Thursday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Oak Grove.
Working off the idea of filling empty bowls, a couple of soups will be served at the event, along with homemade dessert bars, ice cream and popcorn.
The event also will feature silent and live auctions in which a variety of handcrafted ceramic bowls from students at Andover High School and Anoka Ramsey Community College will be on the block.
In addition, Hereau will be offering her hairdressing skills, styling "crazy hairdos." Similar to face-painting, they involve creating wacky looks with glitter and colorful hair dye.
For Hereau, the best part of the evening is having volunteers, clients and community members in one room.
The "Empty Bowls" concept, which originated with the Imagine/Render Group, is an international grass-roots effort to fight hunger, according to its website.
In exchange for a cash donation, people partake in a simple meal of soup and bread, the website says.
This year, in partnership with the local Lions and Lioness clubs, NACE will also be accepting nonperishable food items.
For NACE, Empty Bowls has become one of its biggest annual fundraisers, says the organization's director, Joanne Yackel. Last year's event raised more than $7,000. "It's very critical in our annual budgeting," Yackel said.
The need is certainly there. Through the first part of 2012, the food shelf is busier than it was at the same time last year, and there are new challenges, Yackel said.
Unlike in the past, many of the people who come to NACE have jobs, and a number of families have limited transportation.
It means that daytime hours don't work for everyone, and so NACE has expanded its hours.
The organization is also looking for fresher, more nutritious food options that will stretch longer. "Instead of boxed dinners, the focus is more on a hot dish that will last three days, as opposed to one package that's good for one meal and has more sodium," Yackel said.
This month, NACE also is participating in the Minnesota FoodShare Campaign, an effort to raise food and funds for nearly 300 food shelves throughout the state.
Participating food shelves report their donations to the Minnesota FoodShare each week. The FoodShare, which also collects donations, uses those results to give food shelves that need a hand an extra boost, said Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer, the program's director.
"It's an incentive to raise a lot in March," she said, a time when food shelves are trying to ramp up for summer, when demand goes up with more children home from school.
Local events such as NACE's Empty Bowls show that "people are concerned about hunger in families and they're responding to it immediately," Nelson-Pallmeyer said. "From what I've heard, it's very exciting. There are a lot of things going on."
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.