Jamestown students do their part to fight hunger
The Lawn Avenue School art room resembled a little pottery shop one recent afternoon. Bowls in varying stages of creation sat everywhere. Glazed and unglazed ceramic bowls, some stacked, some spread out, clay molds and rolling pins occupied every table, and the children who participated in the afterschool program weren’t finished working. They wiggled their fingers in modeling clay and designed yet more ceramics for the upcoming Empty Bowls Project, to fight hunger.
On Friday, Nov. 4, everyone is invited to the Melrose School for a bowl of soup or macaroni and cheese. Hundreds of islanders are expected to drop by, starting at 2 p.m. to buy a bowl and enjoy the community dinner. Proceeds go to the Rhode Island Food Bank and local pantries.
The Empty Bowls Project started in the 1990s when two Michigan art teachers decided to fight hunger by asking potters to donate bowls for a community get-together, according to Julia Montminy and Sherry Italiano, two Jamestown parents teaching the afterschool art class.
“They started it to raise awareness [that] there are hungry people in the world,” Italiano said. People ate a bread-and-soup meal. They made a donation and afterwards took the bowls home.
The idea caught fire, and hundreds of communities now hold similar events, she said. In Rhode Island, the South County Art Association and Salve Regina University used to do Empty Bowls, she said, but they have not continued.
Jamestown started its own Empty Bowls Project seven years ago, Montminy said. She helped get the project off the ground along with Liz Perez and Trish Van Cleef.
Montminy said she was surprised by the huge response. “We wanted to get at least 100 [people]; 350 showed up, and luckily we had enough bowls. We only planned to do it once, but then it was so successful, we decided to do it again. I had three children in school, and it was a way to do something together.”
Italiano and Lisa Primiano helped her keep the project going.
“It’s a good way to get the community involved, and it’s a good way to give back,” Italiano said. And it’s a joy, she added, “to see the pride the kids take in watching their bowls take shape.”
Montminy’s daughter Caroline, for example, worked on a new bowl at the afterschool program. She is an old hand at ceramics and said the trick was to make something usable, and not too small or too shallow to contain soup, for example.
All the Jamestown school children are expected to make at least one bowl, Italiano said; and if they attend the fundraiser, they could watch the guests snap up their works of art and pay for them.
The adult donation costs $15. The children’s price is $10.
“That would make me feel special,” sixth-grader Olivia Clarke said.
Olivia, 11, knows how to shape a ceramic bowl to resemble an octopus, a flower or a pair of pants.
“I try to do something different every time,” she explained, chatting while she labored over her latest design. “Just because you can do anything you want. It’s very fun.”
By Nov. 4 the children from the afterschool program will have supplied about 100 bowls, Italiano said. The art teacher, Stephanie Pamula, will provide 200 by assigning all the school children the same project: make one bowl. Professional artists and potters will donate the rest of the 400 or so bowls for sale. “Every year’s a little bit different,” Italiano said. “We get donated soups, bread and desserts.” Some years, the Girl Scouts have contributed food, she said.
According to Jane Wright, who is handling the publicity this year, Empty Bowls has raised $5,000 in past years.
Montminy said in past years, organizations like Bank of America have donated a matching grant, but the companies have not stepped up recently.
Last year, Wright said, in a bad economy, Empty Bowls collections dropped by half to about $2,500.
Organizers hope this year will start the rebound, Wright said. Meanwhile, the children enjoyed making their artistic contributions.
Sixth-grader Juliana Ruggieri, 11, carved leaf decorations out of clay and applied them to the sides of her bowl.
“I like playing with clay,” she said. Asked about her glazes, Juliana said she tries different colors.
“I normally choose bright colors, but they’re not the same colors,” she said.
Juliana has made bowls two years, but for Reagan Sanchez, 10, this was a first time.
“I think it’s really fun,” the fifth- grader said. “I have never really worked with clay to make something.”
Cece Tamborini, 4, a Montessori student, labored over a bowl almost as big as she is.
“You can put decorations on them, and it’s fun to paint them,” she said. Cece guessed a bowl probably needed about two days to dry enough to be painted. But, according to Italiano, from start to finish, the job actually takes about two weeks.
“They’re fired in the kiln, then glazed, then fired again,” she said.