Student artists work benefits food bank

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Allen Park High School senior Brittany Best (right) helps Arno Elementary third-graders Samantha Clipper (left), Victor Martinez and Isaac Donofrio and Arno fourth-grader John Klein create original pottery at the Empty Bowls fundraiser.

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – Local students are learning how their artwork can help make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

Student artists from Allen Park High School as well as Arno, Bennie and Lindemann elementary schools on March 16 helped raise more than $900 for the Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan in the high school cafeteria by donating their original glazed pottery bowls and serving platters to the Empty Bowls fundraiser.

Attendees who purchased a student-made glazed pottery bowl or serving platter, most of which started at $5 , with some as high as $25. They also received soup in a disposable bowl and a slice of bread.

Soups were donated by local businesses, students’ parents and some faculty members.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to teach them that you can do something through your artwork,” said Elisabeth Cunningham, an art teacher at Bennie and Arno. “For the children it’s a way that they can understand … it’s not just for beauty that you make art. It’s for function, and it can be for activism, so we really give them power through their work.”

Empty Bowl fundraisers are held nationwide. Locally, Gleaners benefits from a share of the proceeds. Once Gleaners receives a share, sponsoring groups may contribute their remaining proceeds to other local groups that help alleviate hunger in their own community.

Empty Bowls was started in November 1990 by John Hartom, then an art teacher at Lahser High School in Bloomfield
Hills, and his wife, Lisa Blackburn, also an art educator. Their idea was to have students make ceramic bowls, invite teachers to a soup luncheon, then encourage them to make donations to feed those less fortunate.

“It was just a way for the teacher to teach his students about giving back to the community and using their art to do that,” APHS art teacher Jelane Richardson said. “The concept has caught on worldwide. It’s an international event now. It’s a nonprofit organization, the whole nine yards.”

In addition to donating their clay creations, her high school students also volunteered their time to solicit food donations, set up the cafeteria for the event and serve the food.

“We are also trying to teach them that you do that for the good of your heart,” Cunningham said. “It takes hard work to get prepared for something so that you can give back.”

Richardson said some of her high school students are busy with jobs and sports and other after-school activities, yet as the event approached, they came together like team players to set up and help in other ways.

“I just think it’s very important for young people to reach beyond their average day and try to do something that’s not (just) about themselves,” Richardson said. “This is just a great community affair and even when times are tough and people feel like there is not a lot to give this is a proven fact that you still can give.”

“It’s just so nice to see art bringing people together,” said Rachel Trapani, who teaches art at both Arno and Lindemann elementary schools.

The recent fundraiser was the first time many of her elementary students had worked with pottery and glaze. Students made two bowls, one to keep and one for the event.

“We told them when we started the project that they might not get a chance to buy their pottery,” Trapani said. “It’s all about a bigger cause besides themselves.”

She said her students were excited about both the fundraiser and about seeing their work on display and for sale.

“I told them it’s a really exciting moment for an artist,” Trapani said. “Someone gets to buy your piece.”

In addition to helping Gleaners, a family in need from each participating school will be selected privately by each one’s counseling department to receive a grocery store gift card.

During the March 16 Empty Bowls fundraiser three Allen Park High School musicians entertained attendees. The unnamed trio featured junior Anthony Scannell on drums, senior Andy Meyers on guitar and sophomore Eric Wigginton on tenor saxophone.

A pottery-making station run by high school student volunteers allowed elementary-aged children to discover their inner potter.

The Gleaners also host Empty Bowl making project sessions for prearranged groups of 10 to 25 participants for ages 5 to 17, with each group supplying adult chaperones. The sessions take place at the Gleaners’ Detroit Distribution Center, 2131 Beaufait in Detroit, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

For a $5 fee to cover the cost of art supplies, each participant will make one bowl to take home after it is fired in a kiln, and one to donate for sale at a future Empty Bowls fundraiser.

To schedule an appointment contact Pertine Rambus at or call (866) GLEANER, ext. 231. For more information about the grass-roots Empty Bowls organization, go to