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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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