Headwaters Music and Arts pottery students create bowls for Bemidji United Way event

Jan. 17—BEMIDJI — It's not like United Way Chili Cook-Off events of the past, but the new chili fundraiser will certainly warm folks up when it pairs a local restaurant with pottery students from

Headwaters Music and Arts

to benefit the

United Way of Bemidji Area.

"Fill A Bowl" will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at Bar 209, located at 217 Minnesota Ave. NW. The restaurant will serve chili in 100 bowls created by Headwaters students under the tutelage of Tom Daly. Attendees can purchase a bowl of chili for $25 and bowls will be rinsed after the meal to be taken home.

"We get to offer a nice meal, but our contribution is the smallest part of it," said Bar 209 co-owner Brett Leach, who chaired the 2023 United Way community campaign along with his brother, Derek. "What Headwaters Music and Arts has put together for bowls is absolutely phenomenal. The cool thing is that other people are noticing it, too, because the feedback about it has just been outstanding.

"Some say they're going to buy extra bowls and might not even eat the chili. I'm fine with that. I mean, I make good chili, but if people want to just take advantage of the art, then do that."

For many years, the Chili Cook-Off was a popular community event and a signature fundraiser for the United Way. It was last held in 2019 before the pandemic shut things down. While "Fill A Bowl" is a smaller-scale event, United Way Executive Director Denae Alamano is excited about a fundraiser that involves another nonprofit organization.

"This is a different type of event that was completely and totally Derek's and Brett's idea," Alamano said. "Derek and Brett always do such a great job with any event they host. Those bowls are amazing. The artists who created them are amazing. You could buy a bowl for $25, so to get chili with it I think is a fun add-on."

It's also an opportunity for Headwaters Music and Arts to showcase its pottery program, says Tricia Andrews, the nonprofit's executive director. Daly has taught adult and youth classes there for more than 15 years, with 20 to 30 participants at any given time, including a My Kid and Me parent-child class.

"I was not sure if this would be feasible for us here at Headwaters to take on the request of 100 bowls," Andrews said. "But when Mike McManimon of Natural Stone Supply in Bagley expressed willingness to help cover our costs, and our students and pottery teacher committed to the project, things fell into place."

Headwaters adult students, teen students and instructor Daly have been "diligently crafting truly beautiful and unique bowls," she added. "I am just tickled by how this all came together."

Alamano said funds raised at "Fill A Bowl" will help meet growing needs in the community. The number of children who benefit from programs like Backpack Buddies and Holiday Gifts for Kids has nearly doubled in the last year.

Backpack Buddies provides food packs

that are discretely distributed to children on the last day before weekends and all scheduled school breaks. Alamano said that number has gone from 350 to 622. This year's

Holiday Gifts for Kids went from about 700 to 1,300.

"Things have shifted for the United Way with a lot of people just giving to our greatest need," Alamano said. "Oftentimes that is the campaign. So we are going to give it to our greatest needs."

Brett Leach added, "The United Way has had a lot more participation in their programs this year. That definitely requires more income for them to keep it going. If people want to help beyond this (Fill A Bowl) event, just by buying a bowl itself or wanting to contribute more, I know that they would greatly appreciate it."

Registration for the Feb. 6 event is available online at

unitedwaybemidji.org/fill-a-bowl.