LocationAlhambra , CA
The soup line numbered more than 250 who came to take their pick of crowd favorites including tomato, chicken noodle, and hot & sour soup. But what made this line special was not just the soup or freshly baked bread but the cast of familiar, cheery volunteers gripping ladles and swiftly serving their civically engaged guests.
Many familiar faces including, Alhambra Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler, wore aprons and leaned over tall copper pots to dish up the dinner on a Sunday night at the 8th Annual Empty Bowls fundraiser at the Santa Anita Golf Course in Arcadia. The second floor ballroom was filled to capacity with attendees cycling through the 10 banquet tables.
The event, put on by the local non-profit Family Promise San Gabriel Valley (FPSGV), included volunteer servers Arcadia Mayor April Veriato, Rosemead Mayor Pro-Tem Sandra Armenta, Whittier Mayor Pro Tem Fernando Dutra, Pasadena Housing Director Bill Huang and San Gabriel City Clerk Julie Nguyen. This marked the first time that an Empty Bowls event in the SGV had invited local Mayors and city officials to participate with the key task of serving the soup.
Among the restaurant in-kind sponsors who donated soup, cookies, coffee, and their time, were Alhambra’s Souplantation, Charlie’s Trio, and The Shredded Carrot, to name a few. Each attendee of the fundraiser was given a paper bowl and a ceramic bowl which were donated by in-kind sponsors including Amoca Ceramics Studio, Pasadena City College, Rio Hondo College, Robert Miller, and Chris Turk/East Los Angeles College. The creatively crafted bowls served as a symbol of the importance of basic necessities, such as housing, food, and the strength of community when it comes together to tackle a cause.
The first Empty Bowls event by FPSGV raised nearly $9,000. This year the Empty Bowls event raised approximately $30,000. According to FPSGV Board Chairperson Martin Yuson, who served as MC of the evening, the amount “is a significant increase spurred in part by people’s compassion and recognition that we are in the midst of a homeless crisis.” The non-profit reports that the 2018 edition of the fundraiser raised as much as $15,000.
Empty Bowls has two goals: to raise money for programs that provide homeless prevention services to local youth and families within the SGV and to help educate the public about negative and untrue stigmas against homeless communities.
The programs offered by the nonprofit include a shelter project made up of a network of 13 faith-based locations, a collaboration with the Alhambra Unified School District where Family Promise relays information on services and resources to families who are immediately experiencing homelessness through a case manager, and a homeless prevention program that identifies at-risk families and links them to rental resources and/or eviction assistance.
The funds raised at the Empty Bowls event go directly to supporting these programs, financing case managers to work with students and families, and provides basic-necessity resources such as transportation, food, and housing to the families in need. Funds come from donors, in-kind sponsors, fundraisers, and activities such as opportunity drawings which took place at the event.
Inviting a cohort of local leaders to volunteer as servers is a measure meant to engage cities on the issue of homelessness and eventually address the problem in their own community. Newly appointed Executive Director Melissa Odotei, whose promotion was announced at the event, spoke about the symbolism of serving soup at a fundraiser.
“It’s a simple yet comforting meal that meets an immediate felt need. The soup line also reflects a community based-approach to addressing family homelessness. We use ‘empty bowls’ and folks take their bowl home as a reminder that some have empty bowls as a matter of circumstances rather than choice,” Odotei told Alhambra Source in an email.
Alhambra Mayor Andrade-Stadler, who has served soup at churches and fundraisers in the past, describes the act of feeding people as “humbling.”
Andrade-Stadler, a former member of the Alhambra Unified School District board, described a meeting 10 years ago where the board was faced with the question: how do we house a homeless family? This question was new to the board then and at that time the national understanding of homelessness was marred with misrepresentations in media, negative stereotypes, and a misunderstanding of the many paths to homelessness.
She described the fundraiser as an opportunity “to recognize that this issue is still here and is a result from a lot of things…” To echo this, the non-profit invited Dioselina Gallardo whose family received their temporary housing in 2017, to share her experience being homeless and a single mother of two.
It began when Gallardo was employed under the Los Angeles County In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Department, a federal and state funded program.
One day she got a call from a client who accused her of stealing property from his home. In time, the stress from the confrontation led her to quit her job thinking that the child support she was receiving would be enough to temporarily sustain her and her children. But soon after quitting, she found out that the father of her children had just been incarcerated so she no longer had a financial cushion to support her family.
She soon turned to the staff at Northrup Elementary School in Alhambra and they were able to refer her to programs provided by Family Promise SGV. Gallardo and her two children were temporarily housed at the First Baptist Church of Alhambra, where she now works as the Host Coordinator for said program.
This experience and the network that Gallardo was exposed to taught her that the issue of homelessness can affect anyone but can also be treated if communities partner and pool their resources.
“I think if we all work together…we can eradicate homelessness” said Gallardo.
The evening’s keynote speaker, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Commissioner Sarah Dusseault, spoke about the national crisis of homelessness and what LAHSA, Family Promise SGV and other organizations in the county are doing to combat the crisis. Dusseault was subbing for L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis who had to withdraw at the last minute.
Since 2009, Family Promise SGV is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to aid homeless and low-income families reach fiscal independence by connecting them to programs, resources, and networks in their community. The SGV office is an affiliate of the national Family Promise organization which hosts over 200 other affiliate offices around the country. With the national organization, which started in 1988, having roots in utilizing resources and aid through faith-based congregations, the SGV affiliate follows suit and combines that tactic with grassroots case management routines that look to provide immediate and preventative services to families who need it.
According to the Family Promise national website, the combined efforts of the affiliates have resulted in up to 2,500,000 meals provided to families annually. That effort is coordinated by 200,000 volunteers nationwide, and involves a network of over 6,000 congregations and organizations working together to address the universal issue of homelessness.
Though the national number of homeless seem difficult to grasp, the SGV’s efforts are worth recognition.
This story was updated on October 14, 2019 to include the amount fundraised at the first Empty Bowls event in 2011.