Feeding the Community with Empty Bowls

When members of Radnor’s UMatter teamed up with art teacher Tracey Dean to help strike out hunger, they had no idea how quickly the school community would embrace their efforts. RHS students and faculty have been busy making clay bowls for the first annual “Souper Bowl” dinner event on Friday, February 5th, 2016 at the Wayne United Methodist Church. The event is a local offshoot of the Empty Bowls Project, an international grassroots effort to raise money and awareness in the fight to end hunger.

            Students made one-of-a-kind, handcrafted ceramic bowls in December under the instruction of Mrs. Dean during art classes and community periods, while teachers were invited to make bowls after school. More than 200 pottery bowls dried over winter break and were bisque fired. Members of UMatter helped students glaze the bowls on MLK Day, January 18th, as well as during community periods in the month of January.

            On the day of the Souper Bowl, guests will have the opportunity to select one of the unique handmade bowls, in which they’ll receive a hearty meal of homemade soup and bread. With a $10 donation, they can take their bowl home with them as a reminder of the many other bowls which remain empty at mealtime throughout the community. The soups served that evening will be home-cooked by volunteer parents, teachers and church members, while local businesses will provide bread donations. All proceeds of the event will go to the Wayne United Methodist Church Food Pantry.

            RHS psychologist Amy Wildey, who is supervising the Empty Bowls event, hopes that it will highlight the capacity of every person to effect change through small, yet significant, efforts. “Something as simple as a clay bowl made by you or me is the start to ending hunger right here in our community,” says Mrs. Wildey. “Everyone can make a difference with just a little of their time and piece of their heart.”

            Empty Bowls is a global endeavor of Imagine/RENDER, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create positive, lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build community. The project is the brainchild of Michigan art teachers John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn. In the fall of 1990, this husband and wife team hosted what they thought would be a one-time luncheon to raise money for a local food drive. They shared information about hunger in the Detroit area and, to the surprise of their guests, asked them to keep the bowls they had selected as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world.

            “The room fell silent,” described Hartom. “The guests looked at their bowls, then at one another, and then again at their bowls. Some wept.” He and his wife recognized the opportunity and responsibility to see that the magic and power of that moment reach other communities. Hartom and Blackburn’s Empty Bowls concept rapidly spread across the US and into 14 other countries, including New Zealand, Germany, Finland, and Hong Kong. The international effort has raised tens of millions of dollars for organizations fighting hunger, helping to increase public awareness of food insecurity.

            Though local events are independently organized and vary between locations, they all share the Empty Bowls name and mission. Empty Bowls events encourage community involvement in the arts and foster recognition of how art impacts social responsibility. One of the expressed objectives of the Empty Bowls project is to nurture the creative process through the arts, helping to facilitate new solutions to old problems like hunger.

            For Mrs. Dean, the Souper Bowl event was a long-awaited opportunity to help achieve this objective. She first learned about the Empty Bowls project years ago and was thrilled to finally bring the initiative to Radnor. Partnering with Mrs. Wildey and UMatter was simply a perfect fit.  “Anyone can make a bowl,” explains Mrs. Dean, “so every person who participates, matters. And creating a piece of pottery to raise money to end hunger shows how much art matters.” To Mrs. Dean, making the ceramics for the Souper Bowl was personally rewarding. It gave her the chance to do something that she truly loves—creating art with her hands—in tandem with helping fellow community members in need.

            UMatter’s Empty Bowls project is simply one of an array of fundraising and charitable events that made RHS Radnor Proud this past holiday season. “[It] is just another example of the compassion and generosity that is alive and well at Radnor High School,” says Mr. Bechtold. “Throughout the year, numerous opportunities present themselves for our students to help others in need.  While the recipients of these charitable acts benefit directly, the givers are the ones who are truly the beneficiaries.”