Two hands carefully hold the wet clay as it spins around and around. They shape it and form it to be beautiful, throwing the clay with force onto the wheel. The clay becomes centered as the hands see that it spins perfectly and smoothly. They begin to open the top—carefully, though, because they know if it isn't done correctly, they will have to start the process over again. From there they form the base, they thin and raise the walls, they go through each step with love.
It’s impossible for me to think about the artists’ processes without thinking of the patrons who walk through the doors of the RIFA Soup Kitchen. Their stories are each unique, and they have been formed by each step taken. They come in, some everyday, to not only receive physical nourishment, but more importantly to receive spiritual nourishment. The smiles from the volunteers can be equally as filling as the food on the plates in front of them.
On any given day, the chairs in the RIFA Soup Kitchen dining room are filled with these unique and special individuals—each with their own memories, moments of pride, and moments of heartbreak. They have each been wielded with love by Someone who cares immensely about them.
On this particular day, though, the same chairs will be filled with RIFA’s donors. On the evening of Thursday, March 31, 2016, donors who have given selflessly to better the Jackson community were invited to enjoy a bowl of soup served in a handcrafted bowl at an inaugural donor appreciation event titled Empty Bowls.
The event’s purpose was simple: to say “thank you.”
The donors who give month after month, year after year, began to file in the doors. They, too, have special and unique stories. They have reasons held very dear to them as to why they choose to support RIFA financially, and it is because of them that RIFA is able to change lives in the community, able to change the story of hunger in Jackson, Tennessee.
As I walked with some of the donors through the building that is so familiar to me now and told them what happens in each space, I could see them envisioning the volunteers packing Snack Backpacks, envisioning the patrons being served their plates of food as they were served their bowls of soup.
The bowls they took home will serve as a reminder of the evening, and hopefully a reminder of how much they are appreciated. The time and money they give to RIFA does not go unnoticed. The community is better because of who they are and what they do.
Just as each bowl was carefully designed to point to a higher purpose, the people of Jackson were, too. Each of us was made special and unique, and alone we tell a story as individual as we are. But together, there is even more beauty.
Chelsea-Catherine Cobb is a Jackson native and 2015 Union University graduate with a degree in Public Relations and French. She loves a strong cup of coffee, antique shopping, watching Jeopardy, writing, and meeting others who call Jackson home. Tell Chelsea you love cats, and you'll make a friend for life.
Photography by Chelsea-Catherine Cobb.