Breaking bread: Annual Empty Bowls fundraiser benefits Gleaners and Blessings in a Backpack

Photo by Sue Suchyta Julia Schoen, 10, of Howe Montessori School admires the ceramic artwork created by Dearborn Public School students at the Empty Bowls fundraiser for Gleaners and Blessings in a Backpack Nov. 24 at Park Place Banquet Hall in Dearborn.

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Julia Schoen, 10, of Howe Montessori School admires the ceramic artwork created by Dearborn Public School students at the Empty Bowls fundraiser for Gleaners and Blessings in a Backpack Nov. 24 at Park Place Banquet Hall in Dearborn.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Dearborn Public Schools students district wide created hundreds of ceramic bowls and art objects for the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, held Nov. 24 at Park Place Banquet Hall, to help alleviate local hunger.

Empty Bowls is an international grassroots effort to combat hunger and end food insecurity.

This year locally, for a suggested donation of $5 or more, attendees selected one of the unique ceramic creations and a serving of soup and bread at Park Place Banquet Center, 23400 Park St. The event also featured a tin can raffle, with all proceeds benefiting Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan and Blessings in a Backpack.

Since 1977 Gleaners has distributed emergency food to soup kitchens, shelters and pantries in southeast Michigan to help relieve food insecurity.

The goal of Blessings in a Backpack is to prevent weekend hunger in students receiving free and reduced-cost school meals. Volunteers, working with school officials, send home six weekend meals of non-perishable food with at-risk students.

Kate Blair, Dearborn Public Schools art resource teacher, said the DPS Empty Bowls meal and fundraiser is in its 24th year. She estimated at least 800 students made and donated ceramic art, with most district schools participating.

Blair said for some students, this is the first time they have created art for a fundraiser and would not be taking it home.

“You do have to explain that this time they are not going to be able to get their bowl,” Blair said, “because it is going to help feed hungry people.”

She said one in five children in the United States struggles with hunger.

“There are people here, where we might not be able to tell, but that person is hungry when they come to school, and that is the reality,” Blair said. “Some kids may not know it, but some kids know it all too well.”

She said they get a wide variety of ceramic art from the students, with some teachers having students follow an organized designed, with more leeway given to more experienced art students.

Blair said there is a purpose to the soup and bread meal.

“This meal is a simple meal, it’s not a feast,” Blair said. “When you come here you are just going to have a bowl of soup and some bread, and while it is delicious, it is not a feast, and the reason for that is we want people to realize a little bit what it might be like to go hungry.”

She hopes the empty ceramic bowls guests take home will also serve as reminders of people less fortunate than them.

Julia Schoen, 10, of Howe School, enjoys art, but usually enjoys doing pencil sketches of horses. She said this is the second year she has made a ceramic bowl for the fundraiser.

She said when she saw all the ceramics students made and donated to Empty Bowls, it made her realize the commitment of her fellow students.

“People actually really cared about it and they wanted to help other people,” Schoen said.

Schoen’s grandmother, Mary Reckinger, said she was proud of her granddaughter’s contribution.

“Gleaners is a wonderful organization and they give the food to all the different groups to hand it out, so it is well-worth supporting the Gleaners,” Reckinger said.

Michelle Butler, an art teacher at Stout Middle School, said students look forward to the Empty Bowls project each year.

This year, her art students made imprints of actual leaves in clay, and traced the outline of the leaves before learning how to apply a patina glaze to their art.

She said students like to keep their own art, but are also willing to donate it to help others in need.

“I find the kids to be very giving,” Butler said, “and if they can help somebody, then they are more than willing to do that. They just kind of grew up during the recession, and they know that things are tight and they’ve watched their families go through it, so they know what it means to not have enough, and I think they are really happy to do this.”

Amy Moran, whose daughter Erin, 11, a student at Bryant Middle School, donated a ceramic piece to the fundraiser, thinks it is a great activity for the children.

“This is just a great way for them to contribute something,” Moran said. “The community is coming out. These art teachers do a fabulous job, really getting (them) involved in these projects. I like that they do not have to be the best artist. They just get to contribute and be a part of it.”

Jon Best, 10, of Howard Elementary School, who likes art and would make ceramic pieces anyway, said it feels good to support Gleaners, who help people in need, at the same time.

Nik Knepper, 17, a senior at Edsel Ford High School, said while this is the first bowl he has made for the fundraiser, he will encourage friends to carry on the tradition after he graduates.

“This is a great thing to do for others,” Knepper said. “When you were younger, your mom would always tell you, ‘You have all these toys, and kids don’t have all these other toys, and you are fortunate,’ but one thing that nobody really talks about is people don’t have food in a lot of cases, and it is really important to get that awareness out.”

Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said he likes the annual event and that the students get to be creative, whether making a functional bowl or creating an aesthetic piece.

“I really enjoy it,” O’Reilly said. “I like to look at all the levels. We go from high school down to elementary school, so it is really just a fun event to come and see.

“And, of course, it helps Gleaners, which means that people get fed, and has our children connect to their responsibility for others,” O’Reilly said. “I can’t think of anything that is not right about it.”

For more information, or to donate, contact Blair at 313-580-0960 or at