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Sewickley area artisans help to feed hungry

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
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Bowls are displayed as part of the Empty Bowls event held in 2013.
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Each January, Sweetwater Center for the Arts instructors and students volunteer to help in the ceramics studio to prepare for the event.
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The Empty Bowls dinner is held in Rodef Shalom, 4905 Fifth Avenue, on the South Side.

Help to feed the hungry is coming in all shapes, sizes and colors at Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley.

Each January, center instructors and students volunteer to help with open ceramics studio classes where participants make bowls to donate to Just Harvest, a center for action against hunger in Pittsburgh.

This year, two Sweetwater classes will be held on Saturday.Beginner and experienced ceramic students are welcome to help make bowls that will be used at Just Harvest's and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's Empty Bowls 19th fundraising dinner, set for March 2.

“People do this because they care about the issue. I think Sweetwater captures that in doing these public events,” said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, a nonprofit group.

Last year Sweetwater donated 125 bowls, said Artistic Director Elysia Cecchetti. This year, Cody Wolfe, the center's new ceramics technician, is heading the event. Experienced ceramics students will be available to help participants.

“Participants have the opportunity to learn to throw on the wheel, as well as hand-build bowls, while navigating freely throughout the studio,” Cecchetti said.

Participants each will receive three balls of clay. Although they will choose the shapes and sizes of the bowls they make, they won't be able to choose the color because Cecchetti said the bowls must be fired first.

Each year Sweetwater donates an average of 100 bowls, starting about five years ago on a smaller scale with just a few potters and then expanding to allow the public to join in, Regal said.

About 30 other schools, art centers and individuals donate bowls. Some host similar bowl-making events.

“It makes the event special that some of these bowls come from the kids who are learning this for the first time, and so much caring goes into making the bowls,” Regal said.

The fundraiser started in 1990 at the old Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and caught on in other cities.

In 1995, several local people heard about the event and brought it to the attention of Just Harvest.

Regal said it was estimated that about 200 would attend the first event in 1996, and they thought the 500 bowls they collected would be sufficient and give them inventory for the next year.

“But, 600 people showed up. We ran out of bowls, and soup and space. It was exciting,” Regal said.

Now, he said, Just Harvest always is ready with enough bowls and enough soup. Most years, there are some bowls left over that are used the next year.

Those attending are permitted to choose one bowl from the 1,200 to 1,600 donated each year to take home with them and to taste soup — there are usually 20 to 30 varieties — donated by several Pittsburgh-area restaurants. They also can take some home at the expanded soup take-out station.

Last year, about 1,400 attended the dinner, where Congressman Mike Doyle, state Rep. Dan Frankel, and state Sen. Jay Costa served soup, and about $51,000 was raised.

Half of funds each year go to Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The other half goes toward operations at Just Harvest.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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