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Dozens of custom-painted empty bowls line a long table as onlookers admire them from nearby

Filling Hearts and Empty Bowls in Grand Forks.

GRAND FORKS, ND – Since 2013, Gate City Bank has donated more than $50,000 and countless volunteer hours to help support Empty Bowls, an annual charity drive that keeps a much-needed food pantry on the front burner.

It was a chilly fall day in Grand Forks, but Mickey Munson was having no trouble keeping warm. As the glowing kiln in front of him reached a sweltering 1,800 degrees, he took a step back and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. “We’re cookin’ now,” the spunky food pantry rep cracked to himself before swiping his face shield back down, snatching a nearby dish and feeding it into the flames.

Another batch of custom-painted pottery had just arrived, this time from Gate City Bank, and it was ready to be glazed. Munson’s satisfied grin grew with each piece of art he picked up and examined. The sheer amount of time, creativity and love the bank’s team members poured into this annual cause never ceased to amaze him – he had always been inspired by their passion to promote local hunger awareness.

There was beauty in every bowl.

Mickey Munson holds multiple bowls in his hands in front of a wall hanging that says Empty Bowls, sponsored by Gate City Bank</p>
<h2>A Fork in the Road.
Preparing pottery for Grand Forks’ Empty Bowls initiative was always a handful for Mickey Munson, but in the best possible way. Spending hours in front of a red-hot kiln was worth it if it meant garnering support for a beloved local food pantry.

The days of Munson handling the hearth as part of Grand Forks’ Empty Bowls initiative took place before the world was introduced to COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, it became challenging to hold public painting sessions like the bank’s, and due to safety concerns and additional factors beyond anyone’s control, he and other organizers eventually had to make the difficult decision to put the bowls on a shelf.

A collection of custom-painted empty bowls with paper descriptions in front of them line up on a shelf
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, community members in Grand Forks would paint custom designs on bowls, which would be used to raise money in support of St. Joseph’s Food Pantry.

This was hard news to swallow. Empty Bowls had been a beloved community tradition since 2005, part of a global grassroots movement that benefited local food-related charities. The idea was to have community members paint the bowls, then auction them off. The event energized Grand Forks every November because its proceeds went somewhere close to home – St. Joseph’s Food Pantry.

“Food insecurity is a big deal. It impacts more areas of life than people realize,” says Munson, Executive Director of St. Joseph’s Social Care, which oversees the pantry. “Economic development. Job creation. Overall well-being. If you give people access to healthy food, it starts a chain reaction. Empty Bowls had always been crucial because we relied on it to help bridge that gap for many individuals.”

Grand Forks was in a pinch – the future of Empty bowls was in limbo. That is, until the local Gate City Bank team decided to do something about it.

Becky Mindeman and fellow Gate City Bank team members from Grand Forks, ND, smile for a selfie in front of St. Joseph’s Social Services
When the future of Empty Bowls was unclear, Becky Mindeman (front) and the local Gate City Bank team jumped into action to make sure St. Joseph’s Food Pantry would continue to be taken care of.

New Options on the Table.

For Becky Mindeman and her fellow team members, Empty Bowls had always been about so much more than the actual bowls themselves. Yes, the painting sessions were fun, serving food at the final fundraising event warmed their hearts and watching Munson breathe a sigh of relief after a busy bowl-firing season made them chuckle – but it was the purpose behind the pottery that truly mattered.

And that purpose wasn’t going anywhere.

“I can’t even put into words how important this initiative is for Grand Forks and beyond. It needed to stick around,” says Mindeman, Gate City Bank’s Senior Vice President of Northeastern North Dakota. “Hunger is a tragic reality for many communities, and Empty Bowls has been an opportunity for us to help those in need in Grand Forks. We pledged to be the lead sponsor in order for it to continue.”

Gate City Bank team members and Mickey Munson at St. Joseph’s Social Services pose for a picture for the summer lunch program
In addition to supporting Empty Bowls, Gate City Bank helps St. Joseph’s Social Care with other initiatives, as well, such as its summer lunch program, which helps ensure children continue to receive nutritious meals when school isn’t in session.

While painting bowls would no longer be part of raising money for the food pantry, Gate City Bank’s financial support would help the event continue as a month-long mail campaign and online charity drive. Munson and his board of directors were 100% on board, and pleasantly surprised when community giving increased from previous years. The spirit of Empty Bowls, it would seem, was alive and well.

“That meant everything to us because the need for local food assistance has definitely increased,” Munson says. “The dollar just doesn’t go as far as it used to, and we’re helping 250 families a month. Gate City Bank has been amazing to work with, a vessel for keeping Empty Bowls going.”

Grand Forks community members line rows of tables and fill a gymnasium to hold the annual fundraiser for Empty Bowls
While painting bowls and debuting them at an annual community fundraiser was no longer in the cards for Grand Forks, Gate City Bank ensured that the spirit of that legacy would live on – through an engaging online auction and mail campaign.

Feeding Grand Forks – For a Better Way of Life.®

Today, just because the painting sessions have gone away doesn’t mean that Gate City Bank doesn’t have fun with Empty Bowls. In addition to pledging annual funds as the lead sponsor, the team raises extra money through jeans days, holds community food drives at their local offices and volunteers with St. Joseph’s to support its range of critical programs. The team’s appetite to give has been strong, resulting in a more than $50,000 impact since 2013.

Two female Gate City Bank team members smile and pose for a picture in front of a food-drive box
In addition to raising money for Empty Bowls through successful online and mail campaigns in recent years, St. Joseph’s has benefited from Gate City Bank’s philanthropic efforts at its local offices, such as through jeans days and community food drives.

“At Gate City Bank, having the freedom to serve our communities by helping organizations we’re passionate about is incredible,” Mindeman says. “When we see a need, we have the freedom to make a difference, which means everything.”

 Munson couldn’t agree more.

“Gate City Bank is a fantastic organization,” he says. “To have a partner that’s so engrained in our community and committed to supporting those in need, especially by putting food in their fridge, is amazing.”

Other Community Giving Initiatives:

Gate City Bank team member stacking boxes for West Fargo Eats beside truck in West Fargo, ND

West Fargo Eats

At Gate City Bank, we’ve proudly donated more than $120,000 to transform this pop-up food pantry into a permanent hunger relief program in West Fargo, ND – the first of its kind in the community.

Group of Gate City Bank volunteers take photo in front of Great Plains Food Bank truck, serving ND and MN

Great Plains Food Bank

At Gate City Bank, we’re honored to partner with Great Plains Food Bank. See how we’re helping improve food security in the region, while creating a better life for community members in need.

two Gate City Bank women volunteers smile while helping Emergency Food Pantry

Emergency Food Pantry

No one should have to go hungry or experience food insecurity. Learn more about how we’re partnering with Emergency Food Pantry to provide hunger relief in our communities.

Gate City Bank team members volunteer for a local food pantry

COVID-19 Response

During difficult times, extending a helping hand to those in need leads to healing. Learn more about how we helped our communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.