MURRAY — For the past two-or-so months, Murray and the rest of western Kentucky has baked in unseasonably hot and dry weather conditions that resulted in a September that was hotter than either July or August. 

That is hardly the kind of weather one envisions when it comes to hot foods like soup and chili, items more associated with fall. Yet, almost as if it were scripted, fall seemed to arrive Friday, just in time for an event that emphasizes hot food in the name of a worthy cause — the Empty Bowls Project to benefit the Murray Calloway County Need Line. 

“We always do it in October when it starts getting cooler and people are more likely to enjoy things like soups and chilis and breads. Now, soup is still good any time of the year, but it really gets good when you’ve got a little touch of Mr. Frost in the air like we do tonight,” said Need Line Executive Director Tonia Casey as she watched the crowd pour into the covered deck of the Playhouse in the Park at Central Park. 

As the name of the event implies, bowls are also heavily featured, but they are not just any other bowls. These are bowls that are specially designed, having been made by residents, church groups, nonprofits and others during design sessions the past several months. Then, members of the Murray Art Guild apply their creative touches through paint and special preservation glazes. 

Those bowls, about 300 of them, are then made available for diners to claim and have them filled with their choices from a wide selection of hot food items provided by Need Line board members, as well as non-Need Line community members. In addition, local artist Wayne Bates offered some of his bowl creations at the dinner. 

“This event normally generates between $5,000 and $7,000 and we have teamed up with (Murray-Calloway County Parks & Recreation) and the Art Guild, some of our restaurants in town and others, and it has just been fabulous,” Casey said of Empty Bowls, which she said originated as a Murray State University project back in 2002. “It has supported Need Line the entire time and it’s an event that is absolutely wonderful.

“Each year, we have a lot of people who see this and ask me, ‘Tonia? What can I donate to help you out?’ One of the big things has been the paper bowls that most people put inside the bowls they pick, and those paper bowls have been donated by a lovely lady in our community. But it’s a simple meal that a lot of families struggle to provide to their own families. 

“What we’re here for is to make sure that everybody has soup in their bowl. It took everyone coming together to make stone soup (from an old folktale about a town’s people joining an enemy soldier in creating a soup from items throughout that community, resulting in an unlikely friendship). It’s the same thing here.”

Each year sees newcomers make their way to the Playhouse to see this event themselves, and that was true again Friday. In fact, for one of them, Van Richardson of Murray, this was pretty well-timed. 

Richardson was still dressed for weather more along the lines of the past two months, wearing a short-sleeve golf shirt against the increasingly cold winds that had arrived late in the day. 

“It’s my year-round attire,” Richardson said, smiling as he stood with his wife, Amy. Van is a new resident to Murray, having arrived in March, while Amy has been a resident the past 19 years. 

Both, however, said they were interested in helping a fellow nonprofit as they oversee the Hope in Murray agency, whose goal is to offer assistance to families and individuals who have experienced damage from storms, fires and other acts of nature. 

“In fact, I just met Tonia about two weeks ago and I wanted to come out tonight and support this organization for all they do,” Van said, patiently standing in line against the increasing chill of the early-evening hours in Murray. 

“It wasn’t bad two hours ago. It was actually still kind of warm, so I think that fooled us,” Amy said, protected against the elements by a windbreaker. “I’m working on it. I need to get him some soup.”  

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