On a recent rainy, chilly morning, Hempfield Area High School art students fashion ceramic bowls to fill with warming soup to benefit the area’s hungry.
Students in instructors Ed Lasko and Hillary Haponski’s art classes are once again preparing vessels for an upcoming Empty Bowls event.
Held annually by food banks in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties, the fundraisers help those nonprofits line their shelves and fill their pantries to help the region’s needy.
The Westmoreland County Food Bank Inc. and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank each have planned upcoming meals to draw attention to the ongoing problem of hunger.
The Delmont-based Westmoreland County Food Bank will mark its 11th Empty Bowls event on March 3 in the Hempfield Area High School cafeteria.
More than 1,000 keepsake bowls will be available. Many feature local artists’ work donated and themed around the concept of Empty Bowls.
Lasko introduces the project to students by telling them about event founder Karen Piper, who reached out to the food bank after receiving a heart transplant.
“She told God that if she got through it she would spend the rest of her life giving back to the community,” says Jennifer Miller, Westmoreland County Food Bank CEO.
While Piper is still involved and makes good on her promise, her son Tim Piper and Crystal Szogi now co-chair the event.
Having volunteer groups adopt a project takes the burden off food bank staff, Miller says.
“We don’t do anything but show up and enjoy it. It is awesome to see people working toward the same goal we have,” she says.
Donations, including soup, bread, cookies and baked goods, come from more than 30 local restaurants and caterers. The Westmoreland County Community College’s culinary arts, the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center staff and students and Panera Bread also donate food for the event.
Typical attendance is close to 500, Miller says; on average, the event raises about $12,000-$13,000.
With the food bank’s wholesale buying power, she says, each $1 donation equals $10 worth of food.
Area school students and local artisans add to the collection of bowls each year. Attendees select a bowl of their choice which they can take home. Entertainment, along with a 50-50 drawing and a Chinese auction, is planned.
Creative concept, many helping hands
Piper reached out to area schools asking that art students consider making the bowls, says Lasko, who has been involved with the project since its beginning. About 130-150 students make bowls for the fundraiser.
“They have been working with clay since September. A lot of (the bowls) are turning out really cool. I’m pleased about that,” Lasko says. “We just require (students) to make it a ‘coil’ project,” says Haponski, referring to the bowls’ design.
Haponski, also a family consumer science teacher, says this is her first year with the project, which she plans to repeat. “I told (students) to make something that people will want to buy,” she says.
Student Hannah Kolbosky, 16, a junior, turned to the internet for inspiration. “I was just looking at Pinterest for different designs,” she says.
Filling bellies in Allegheny County
Along with Just Harvest, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will hold its 24th annual Empty Bowls event March 10 at Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh.
The event’s two seatings can accommodate a maximum of 800 people each, says Beth Burrell, food bank communications and public relations manager.
Schools throughout Allegheny County also make bowls for the event as part of classroom activities and art classes.
“A lot of the different school organizations and community organizations come together to make bowls. Sweetwater (Center for the Arts), North Hills School District alumni … There is a wide variety of skill and artistic creativity,” Burrell adds.
Guests at Pittsburgh’s event also will select a piece of pottery to take home and enjoy soups local restaurants donate, children’s activities and an auction featuring artwork and celebrity-autographed bowls.
Visitors can purchase an extra bowl if more than one catches their eye.
Also this year, the food bank’s nutrition team is selling “soup to go” kits, including ingredients and recipe, that guests can use to make their own soup at home.
The souvenir bowl serves as a reminder of individuals in local communities who are struggling with food shortages, Burrell says.
“The (proceeds) go to the food bank and Just Harvest. On our end, the meals do make quite an impact on our community. Every $1 donated could provide five meals,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, email@example.com or via Twitter .
Hempfield Area High School junior Hannah Kolbosky, 16, works on a bowl for the Westmoreland County Food Bank’s Empty Bowls fundraiser.
Hempfield Area High School art and family and consumer science teacher Hillary Haponski shows the “coil” method of constructing ceramic bowls for the Empty Bowls fundraiser.
Hempfield Area High School senior Noah Miller, 18, watches as art instructor Hillary Haponski demonstrates a technique in ceramics class.
Hempfield Area High School senior Timothy Howard, 18, fashions a bowl for the Westmoreland County Food Bank’s Empty Bowls event.
These bowls were created by Hempfield Area High School art students using the “coil” method.
These bowls were created by Hempfield Area High School art students using the "coil" method.
Hempfield Area High School art teacher Ed Lasko works with students on the Westmoreland County Food Bank’s Empty Bowls project.