Martha’s Table gearing up for flagship ‘Empty Bowls’ fundraiser

James Mulvale, a cook with Martha’s Table, which provides warm meals and a sense of community for Kingston’s unhoused and vulnerable populations. Photo by Owen Fullerton via the Local Journalism Initiative.

The biggest fundraising event of the year is on the horizon for Kingston food charity Martha’s Table, and this might be the most important year yet for the event.

The Empty Bowls fundraiser is a ticketed event where attendees receive a handcrafted bowl made by the Kingston Potters’ Guild and come together for a soup lunch, with all proceeds going to Martha’s Table. 

Ronda Candy, Executive Director of Martha’s Table – which has served over 100,000 meals over the last year, and over 1.5 million since opening in 1997 – said donations, in general, are lower than typical years, as it’s no secret people all throughout Kingston and the entire country are feeling the pinch from inflation. 

Martha’s Table, she said, has certainly not been free from feeling that impact, resulting in needed support for its constant, seemingly ever-growing list of people in need.

“We’re cooking for more than 450 people seven days a week,” Candy stated.

“And we’re really feeling that, and donations are down a bit because, again, every single person in this city no matter what your circumstances are, you feel the inflation.”

Empty Bowls is a long-standing event that normally makes a significant difference in fundraising for the organization. In 2020 it was cancelled entirely, and last year’s event was restricted due to COVID measures, with attendees taking their bowls and soups home with them from an outdoor setup in the Martha’s Table parking lot. 

This year, the event will return to in-person on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, being hosted for the first time at the Quality Inn and Conference Centre, located at 33 Benson Street (near the Division Street on/off ramps to Highway 401).

Candy said that getting back to a larger, in-person capacity will be an improvement over last year, and staff are very excited for it. Even in its stripped-back format last year, the event was extremely positive for those with Martha’s Table, and a reminder to the community that the need is great.

Attendees to the Empty Bowls event receive a handmade bowl from the Kingston Potters’ Guild. Photo via Martha’s Table.

“It really is a boost,” Candy said.

“I think even more than the financial contribution, last year it reminded people that we’re in the community, and the holidays are coming, that we still need their help… It’s more of a mental nudge that we still need help.”

With winter coming quickly, the need could very well grow for organizations like Martha’s Table. Candy, and others who work with the city’s unhoused and most vulnerable, are forced to shoulder more of the load as winter comes around without adequate solutions being on the table or discussed with any urgency. 

She said they’re prepared to help, but it’s frustrating for the city as a whole to be continually unprepared for a recurring issue.

“We need to be more proactive… we know it’s coming, it’s year after year and people need a place to go,” Candy said.

“So, it’s no surprise when we get there, and people are cold. It’s very frustrating.”

This year’s return to in-person will see three separate seatings of 100 each, and Candy said they’ve organized the event to be spaced out, and will continue to take some extra precautions, as most pandemic restrictions have been rescinded. 

Tickets are $65, which includes a gourmet soup lunch prepared by some of Kingston’s most celebrated chefs, and a handcrafted bowl. The event will also have a silent auction and live local music. 

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