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Ligonier Valley 5th-graders join fight to end hunger

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:55 p.m.
Abby Gricheck, 11, a fifth-grader at R.K. Mellon Elementary School in Ligonier, paints glaze onto a bowl that will be donated to the Empty Bowl project. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Jameson Brown, 10, a fifth-grader at R.K. Mellon Elementary School in Ligonier, paints glaze onto a bowl for the Empty Bowl project. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Nikolai Woloshun, 11, a fifth-grader at R.K. Mellon Elementary School in Ligonier, paints glaze onto a bowl in Brandon Rensko's class. Bowls made by the class will be donated to the Empty Bowl project. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

More than 150 fifth-graders in the Ligonier Valley School District are participating in a project to benefit the Westmoreland County Food Bank by utilizing their artistic skills.

Students in Brandon Rensko's art classes at R.K. Mellon and Ligonier Valley Elementary Schools made clay bowls to donate to the fifth annual “Empty Bowl” event being held at St. Bruno's Parish Hall in Greensburg 12 - 5 p.m. March 10.

When Rensko, of Ligonier, learned of this grassroots project, he knew it was something he would like to be involved in.

“I thought it would be a good way to give back to the community,” said Rensko, who was happy for the opportunity to raise money for the food bank while working with his favorite medium — clay and ceramics.

“Empty Bowl” is a charitable event that aims to bring awareness to the many people throughout the world who do not have enough to eat. What began in the early 1990s as a way for art teacher John Hartom to make a difference in his Michigan community, has turned into an international project to fight against hunger.

The premise is to collect handcrafted bowls made by members of the community and gather for a simple meal. In exchange for a cash donation, guests are invited to keep their bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. Monies raised are to be donated to a local organization working to end hunger.

Most of the 12 area school districts participating in the event were submitting bowls crafted by high school students, but Rensko said he felt that his seven fifth-grade classes were up for the challenge. Rensko's students are the only elementary students donating bowls completely handmade and glazed to the event.

“Their bowls are just lovely,” said the event's chairwoman Karen Piper of North Huntingdon.

Piper visited the students to talk about the Empty Bowl project and to share how Westmoreland County's participation in the event has grown since she began it five years ago.

“The students were excited when they realized they were actually earning money for families at the food bank,” Piper said.

Rensko received a $100 grant offered to art, music and gym teachers from the Thoburn Foundation of Education to purchase the special type of clay and glaze necessary to make the bowls functional. Students used a technique that required stacking rolled balls of clay around empty Cool Whip containers to form the bowls. “It was a really unique idea,” said Piper.

Students began crafting their bowls back in December, Rensko said. Currently, they are glazing them in solid colors or simple designs. Rensko will firing them in a kiln heated to more than 2,000 degrees.

“This was our first year doing this,” Rensko said, “and we'll definitely be doing it again next year.”

Tickets to attend the Empty Bowl are $15 and available at the door the day of the event. Cost includes a variety of soups and breads, from more than 30 area restaurants, and a handcrafted bowl to take home. There will be more than 1,000 bowls to choose from crafted by students, local artisans, church groups, scout troops, women's clubs and pottery stores.

Entertainment will be provided and chances to win prizes in a chinese auction and a silent auction will be available.

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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