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New Richmond preps for Empty Bowls event

Hannah Traaseth, a fifth-grader at Hillside Elementary, works to form her ceramic bowl. All fifth-graders in the New Richmond School District are creating bowls to be sold at the New Richmond Empty Bowls event on April 18. All proceeds will be used to fight local hunger.1 / 2
Fourth-grader Gavin Paulson works on the design of his glass pendant during art class at Hillside Elementary on Monday, April 1. The glass pendants will be hung from silk cords and sold as necklaces at the annual Empty Bowls event on Thursday, April 18.2 / 2

Staff and volunteers at the New Richmond Community Commons are busy bees as the final touches are being put on the space in preparation of next week's Empty Bowls event.

Hundreds of bowls have been formed and dozens of glass necklaces have been made in an effort to raise money to fight local hunger.

The event, slated for 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, is predicted to raise at least $10,000 for the New Richmond Happy Kids Backpack Program and Five Loaves Food Shelf.

Empty Bowls is a national campaign that was started by a teacher in Michigan who wanted to help his students raise funds to support a food drive. The idea behind Empty Bowls is to serve a simple meal -- usually of bread and soup or rice -- and for guests to leave with their bowls as a reminder that there are always empty bowls in the world.

In New Richmond, bowls, created mostly by the district's fifth-graders, will be on display at the Community Commons. Guests are able to select a bowl for $10, which includes a meal of soup and bread. Additional meals are available without a bowl purchase for $3 each.

All the proceeds raised at New Richmond's Empty Bowls event will stay in the New Richmond community, said Cheryl Emerson, co-chairwoman of the event. The money will be split between the Salvation Army Backpack Program and Five Loaves Food Shelf and Clothing Center in New Richmond.

The New Richmond Backpack Program supplies needy students with backpacks filled with food for the weekend. The backpacks are discreetly distributed to local children the last day before the weekend. At last count, 71 elementary and middle school students are sent home with backpacks, said Joan Simpson, district nurse. Those 71 backpacks can feed 287 people. In addition, 21 New Richmond Head Start families are also enrolled in the program. That's an additional 102 people fed through the program.

"People are floored when they hear the numbers," Simpson said. "They have no idea that there's this need in our community or how many families we're feeding."

Five Loaves Food Shelf provides food to low-income families within the New Richmond School District. Since moving to its new space in the Community Commons, the food shelf has been able to increase the number of families it serves. More than 500 families are on the list at Five Loaves, said Shanta Mortimore, with Five Loaves. About 250-300 of those 500 families visit the food shelf each month, she said.

Some people are surprised by the statistics, but the reality is that the need is great in St. Croix County, Emerson said.

According to statistics gathered by Karen Brummer, district nutritionist:

• 9.7 percent of St. Croix County children live in poverty.

• Participation in the Food Share program (formerly known as Food Stamps) has tripled in St. Croix County in the last five years.

• The number of students in poverty in the school district has doubled since 2005.

• 33 percent of New Richmond students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program

• 57 percent of St. Croix County Women, Infants and Children (WIC) families reported food insecurity in 2007 and have said they sometimes don't eat because there isn't enough food.

It's estimated that, for every dollar raised at the Empty Bowls event, $7 worth of food can be purchased for the food shelf and backpack program.

The local event started in the fall of 2007 before being switched to the spring in 2009. Each year the event gains in popularity. The first year about $8,200 was raised; in 2009, $10,750; in 2010, more than $11,000; about $11,000 was collected in 2011; and about $15,000 was raised in 2012.

As in previous years, middle school students are making bottle cap magnets, and T-shirts are available at Community Education for $10 and will also be sold the night of the event. A student-run bake sale will be available the night of the event.

A silent auction, featuring Twins tickets and a Nick Perry autographed mini Packers helmet, will be held during the event.

New Richmond's Empty Bowls event is run entirely by volunteers, Emerson said.

All of the soup, bread and water served at the event are donated by local businesses. As of April 2, 28 gallons of soup had been committed to the event by Ready Randy's, Champs, Douville Bakery, Rooster's Roadhouse, Subway, Wild Badger and the district's food service department.

Anything left over at the end of the night is donated to Grace Place, a homeless shelter in Somerset, Emerson said.

"Nothing goes to waste," she said.

Performances by local groups, including the Ready Set Go preschool singers and Dance Explosion, will take place throughout the event, Emerson said.

Duana Bremer, of the Salvation Army, will be on hand with information about the New Richmond Happy Kids Backpack Program, along with Mortimore, who will be giving tours of the food shelf.

For more information about the event, contact Community Education at 715-243-7421.

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