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Potters fight hunger one bowl at a time

Hundreds of people passed through the doors of Hillside Elementary Monday night to browse the handcrafted bowls for sale during the second annual New Richmond Empty Bowls event. The fund-raiser helps collect money for Five Loaves Food Shelf, New Richmond Happy Kids Backpack Program and Heifer International. Photo by Jackie Grumish2 / 2

Community Ed director Cheryl Emerson couldn't help but smile as she browsed the tables of Empty Bowls at Hillside Elementary Monday night.

The bowls, created by New Richmond students and staff, were sold to help raise money to end hunger locally. The proceeds will benefit Five Loaves Food Shelf and the New Richmond Happy Kids Backpack Program.

Last year, $8,200 was raised through New Richmond Empty Bowls. Emerson said she'd be happy if the group got that amount this year.

"With this economy I didn't want to set a goal," she said.

The Empty Bowls national campaign was started by a school teacher in Michigan who wanted to help his students raise funds to support a food drive.

A simple meal -- usually of bread and soup or rice -- is served and guests leave with their bowls as a reminder that there are always empty bowls in the world.

Last year the group served only rice. This year, the group served several types of soup, generously donated by local restaurants and businesses. Bread was made by the FCE class at the high school.

"I think it's going well," Emerson said. "It seems like there were a lot of people here right at the beginning."

The public had to show up early to get first pick of the pottery. By 5:30 p.m. hundreds of people had already made their way through the doors and many of the handmade bowls were already claimed.

All the clay -- roughly 600 pounds -- was donated by Continental Clay Co., a Minneapolis-based company.

It's hard to compare the 2009 event to the previous year, Emerson said.

"We're still learning and making adjustments," she said.

One adjustment was the location.

The first Empty Bowls event was at New Richmond Middle School. This year, organizers moved the fund-raiser to Hillside Elementary.

"We had more space this year," Emerson said. "I think people like that."

The bowls were displayed in Hillside's gym, the silent auction was in the main hallway and the soup was served in the cafeteria. At last year's event, both the bowls and silent action were in the gym and the meal was served in the commons.

"It just felt more cramped last year," Emerson said. "Now people can spread out."

At 6 p.m. families filled the tables in the cafeteria consuming the soup.

"The soup is a big hit," Emerson said. "And anything left over is going to be donated to Grace Place."

Grace Place is a transitional housing shelter in Somerset with accommodations for up to 25 people.

About 70 New Richmond families are served through the backpacks program, which sends students home for the weekend with backpacks full of food. Soon, the group will partner with Head Start to reach an additional 30 families.

Last year, as Mike Pike, Hillside Elementary art teacher, was explaining the backpacks program to his students, one stood and announced that she was one of the kids benefiting from the program. Her classmates stared at her in disbelief but soon realized the need in the community.

Her story motivated the kids to work even harder to make Empty Bowls successful.

"I think we're doing well," Emerson said. "Families have so much going on with other activities and commitments, it's nice to see this many people here."

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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