2010-01-28 / Front Page

They’re going to Disney World

By Eileen M. Daly

Julia Montminy (right) works with Empty Bowls volunteers Isabel Montminy Crabtree and Elliott Italiano during a recent afterschool program at Lawn Avenue School. Disney videographers were on hand to film the Montminy family, who are being honored by Disney’s new program recognizing those who volunteer in their communities. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Julia Montminy (right) works with Empty Bowls volunteers Isabel Montminy Crabtree and Elliott Italiano during a recent afterschool program at Lawn Avenue School. Disney videographers were on hand to film the Montminy family, who are being honored by Disney’s new program recognizing those who volunteer in their communities. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Islander Julia Montminy describes volunteerism as “just something we do as part of our regular lives.”

She admits she was more than a bit surprised to find that her family had been selected for recognition at a special ceremony this February at Walt Disney World as part of Disney’s “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” program to encourage volunteerism in 2010.

“One family from each state and from each of the provinces of Canada and Puerto Rico received an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney, including airfare, hotel and food,” she said.

Out of all those families, several – including Montminy’s – were also selected to be part of a film made by Disney to capture some of these families and their volunteering in action.

“I can’t imagine why we were chosen to be filmed,” Montminy said, adding, “except that we have three beautiful daughters.”

The Montminy family includes Julia, husband, Bruce Crabtree, and daughters Maddy, a senior at North Kingstown High School, Isabel, an eighthgrader at Lawn Avenue School and Caroline, a fourth-grader at Melrose Avenue School.

The Disney film crew filmed the Montminy family last Thursday afternoon at Lawn Avenue School as they – and other volunteers – made bowls for the Empty Bowls program.

“Empty Bowls began a long time ago, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, at a high school in Michigan,” she said. “The premise was that we can feed the world and really, we can. If you think about the waste out there and the money out there, it can be done.”

Jamestown’s Empty Bowls event – typically held in November – uses bowls created by Jamestown school children, as well as local artists and volunteers. An admission fee lets attendees pick a bowl and fill it with soup served during the event; the bowl is theirs to keep and proceeds from the event are donated to the R.I. Community Food Bank.

The Empty Bowls organization suggests certain parameters for the event, Montminy said, such as only using soup, bread and water.

“It’s meant to give people the idea of going without,” she said.

But that’s all the organization does, she added. It doesn’t offer any additional help and no money is paid to them.

Her own involvement in Empty Bowls began five years ago, she said, when she was looking for some way to combine spending time with her children with pursuing her interest in art and in volunteerism.

“My friend was a beginning potter and we just said, ‘Let’s do it, let’s start this,’” Montminy said.

That conversation led to what has become something of a Jamestown tradition.

Liz Perez, Trish VanCleef (the potter) and Montminy originally led the project, but two years ago, they turned that role over to Sherry Italiano and Lisa Primiano while continuing to assist with the project.

“It just became really overwhelming,” Montminy said. “It’s a lot of work and we needed some help. We make bowls all year round and handmade napkins, and we have the art auction. We make the t-shirts. It’s a lot.”

Tickets are sold for the event, at a price of $15 for adults and $10 for children.

“People then come in and choose a bowl and there are literally hundreds to choose from, some from professionals and some from the kids. They choose a napkin and a spoon and then they choose their soup – there are five soups to choose from and people can try a few different kinds if they want to. This year, Panera Bread donated all of the soup. It’s always good, but this year it was really good,” she said.

“We’ve really raised a lot of money,” she said. “The first year we hoped to make 100 bowls and we got 400 bowls done. We raised $5,500 and Feinstein matched it, so we were able to give $11,000 to the food bank.”

The event continues to be a family affair, Montminy said.

Maddy’s jazz band plays at Empty Bowls and Caroline designed the silk-screened t-shirts. The whole family is involved in making bowls, and Montminy even includes her daughters friends.

“They are all really good about it,” she said. “They just know it’s expected and they all pitch in and help.”

Montminy’s own family background helped instill in her a commitment to volunteerism.

“We’ve always done it,” she said. “We were taught that if you see a need and you can do something about it, you do it. It’s not a big deal. It’s just how everyone should act.”

As an example, Montminy talked of a trip she took to Romania with her mother and sisters following the Romanian revolution, which marked the fall of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

“I designed a reusable diaper for the orphans,” she said. “That is a perfect example of seeing a need and doing something about it.”

But Montminy is quick to point out that she receives a great deal of help with her efforts.

“Stephanie Pamula has been really great,” Montminy said, referring to the Lawn Avenue art teacher. “She lets us use her room and she has her students make bowls for us during the year.”

Montminy also relies on her friends for help.

“I have really wonderful friends who are always willing to lend a hand,” she said. “I think people really enjoy helping others. Helping others makes people feel good.”

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