What exactly is Empty Bowls, but more importantly what does it mean? A Google search may tell you that Empty Bowls is a ceramics based charity event in which a community gathers together to raise money by using talent for purpose. This would barely scrape the surface of what it means.

First: What does Empty Bowls mean to the community? The event brings together a community to work and bond over the promotion of the common good. So many people, going out of their way to help those less fortunate.

Every Saturday I look forward to the hour I can get up and drive to Malvern Prep. There I’ll walk into Duffy and down the hall to the Ceramics Studio, but before I can even get there the sound of wheels running and clay banging becomes quite apparent. When I walk in there is too much to all take in at once. In one corner I’ll see the parents and siblings of skilled potters hard at work painting elegant and fun designs on a plethora of bowls. Down near the wheels you’ll get a glimpse of the skilled artists creating bowl after bowl until a mountain of clay lays before them, and yet you’ll also see the person who’s never touched the stuff before working so hard to create just one perfect small bowl. That new potter taking a risk is just as much an artist as the students who have been working with ceramics for years.

I really mean that Empty Bowls brings the community together because the last thing I notice when I walk into the studio on Saturday morning are the alumni who come nearly every week to support the event. They had such a positive experience with the event that they had to come at least once before the event date to help and contribute what they could to make the charity dinner perfect. After a warm welcome and some catching up, together everyone sits down and gets working because that is what Empty Bowls means: to be together and to work together for everyone’s benefit.

What does Empty Bowls mean to me? I first joined the event as a freshman because I did ceramics. I thought since I was already making bowls that I might as well contribute as much as I could for a charity. Back then, as a ninth grader, I barely understood the meaning. The event passed by and I didn’t take notice of anything. Not of the prayer before anyone was allowed to eat, not of the speech given by a chair of the committee detailing our mission, and certainly not the people who attended.

Sophomore Year came and I had to go on my first Malvern Christian Service Trip. At St. Augustine’s Church, I painted bowls with men who were living in Bethesda Project’s shelters. I spoke with one man about Empty Bowls. He said he enjoyed painting bowls every fall with Malvern Prep.

Learning from our dinner guests at St. Augustine’s, October 2016


Fast forward to the Sophomore Year Empty Bowls Dinner in January. I was working the admissions table, so I saw everyone who walked in and out of the event. I was busy packing up a bowl for someone to take home when I saw a familiar face walking out to leave – the same man I met at St. Augustine’s, a guest who traveled with Bethesda Project’s community to our Empty Bowls event.. I put down the bowl and ran out to say hello. He may not have recognized me, but we talked again, and he praised the evening’s event.

That’s when I realized what we were really doing. Talent for service. Yes I could make bowls, but ceramics students do this every day. It was in this moment I realized how lucky I was to helping others. Living out the value of Unitas, I spent the rest of the night listening and watching. I spotted more friends I had met in Philadelphia. I listened to the conversations inspired by the bowls and the guest speakers. The reality of what this event could mean to some people really began to sink in. The reality of how far our impact reaches began to sink in.

Empty Bowls is about people pulling their talents together to benefit a good cause. No one potter could create this many bowls, and no one organizer could coordinate the event. It takes a community, with everyone contributing their best work.

Through Empty Bowls I’ve been able to see just what a community can do, and how one person’s contributions make a big difference in that community. There might be easier ways to fundraise, but I don’t know any that teach the same sense of collaboration or responsibility for using our gifts and talents.


Cullen in the studio, winter 2016


Cullen Robinson ’17 has been involved with Empty Bowls since his freshman year, and is heading up the Silent Auction this year. Contact him at crobinson70@malvernprep.org.