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'Empty Bowls' raises funds to fight hunger at Buffalo Soup-Fest

“Empty Bowls” would be the obvious goal of a soup festival, but at Buffalo Soup-Fest on Sunday, the phrase gained new meaning.

Hundreds of colorful bowls of all shapes and sizes greeted festivalgoers as they entered the doors of Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Created by art students from area schools, the empty bowls lined one very long table staffed by Friends of Night People, an organization that raises public awareness about homelessness and provides essential services – including daily hot meals.

“The goal is for students to express what homelessness, hunger and poverty mean to them by creating empty bowls and accompany the bowl with a written explanation,” said Joseph Heary, executive director of Friends of Night People since 2009.

Festivalgoers could then purchase the bowls for $5 to $15 with the proceeds benefiting Friends of Night People. Nearly 400 bowls were made by students attending public, private and charter schools, including Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, John F. Kennedy High School in Cheektowaga, Eden Elementary School and Nichols School.

The Empty Bowls concept started in 1990 at a Detroit high school as a faculty luncheon that featured bowls created by ceramic students. Teachers purchased the bowls for $5 each and at the end of the luncheon, a presentation was made on hunger in Detroit. The bowls were to be kept as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world. Today, events have been held across the United States and Canada, and in New Zealand, Germany, Finland, England and Hong Kong.

Eden Elementary School students created more than 200 bowls, said Lynn Morgan, an Eden art teacher for 23 years. Morgan used a PowerPoint presentation to teach the children the difference between food insecurity and hunger. She supplemented the lesson with statistics on hunger.

“Hunger is a personal problem, an uncomfortable sensation, but food insecurity is a household problem where people are not financially capable of obtaining food year-round,” Morgan told her students. “Food insecurity affects 22 percent of children in Erie County.”

Students in one of Morgan’s 12 art classes were required to create a symbol for each clay bowl they created, then to explain its meaning. “My symbol means water, and water droplets are needed to grow food,” one agriculturally-minded student explained.

Another class created clay bowls, painting the outside gold while glazing the inside in black. “American seems like a county of plenty, signified by the gold exterior,” explained Morgan. “The black interior is meant to show 40 million Americans do not have enough to eat.”

Nichols students crafted origami bowls which weren’t functional, but turned heads for their aesthetic appeal. Students from other schools used plaster and papier-mache to send home the message of hunger.

Becky Hubbard, left, purchases a bowl created by her grandson Dylan Noecker, 10, of Eden, from Patty Krehbiel, relationship manager at Friends of Night People. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Art teacher Minna Kempf of Global Concepts Charter School required her freshman students to make bowls with lids.

“The kids responded to clay,” Kempf said. “In between the clay, we were talking about social issues.”

One student’s bowl depicted a faceless person under a sky of blue, white and sunny yellow.

“This faceless individual represents all the people who go without food every day,” the young artist said.

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