HIGH SCHOOL JOURNALISM: Solon's Empty Bowls helps those in need

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By C.J. Baloy, Solon junior

SOLON - Visual art is used to create beauty in this world. Its endless possibilities can open windows to a new world and new ideas.

For some, it can be used to help others in need.

The Empty Bowls Luncheon is an annual event held at Solon High School in the early days of spring. The organization’s full title - “Empty Bowls Luncheon To End Hunger” - really does speak for itself.

“The organization in North Carolina called Imagine/RENDER came up with the idea several years ago," said Josh Koza, Solon High School art teacher. "It was a community organization that was heavily based on art and helping the community out.”

The bowls that are made to sell during the event are handmade by the students, specifically, the 20 or so art club members. Every bowl is unique in its own way. They are all made by three common techniques: pinch, throw and slab.

“After you create the bowl, you fire it, glaze a design on it, and then fire it again,” said senior Bailey Kelsay.

This process can take days because the bowls must completely dry out before firing it in the kiln.

“The studio is open to anyone at just about anytime,” Koza said. “The rule is if I’m here, the studio is open. I’m here at 7:15 every morning and stay for about a little over an hour after school, even if you have an open block, you can come in and make a bowl.”

Although its mostly students who use the studio, it also is open to the community.

“The majority of the art club members are seniors since they have the most time to come in before or after school hours," Kelsay said. "It appeals to underclassmen as it can get them out of seminar; and use it to help others in need."

Senior Grayson Harrington, on the other hand, has come in to contribute during his own time.

"In the last few Saturdays, I have come in and worked on bowls for about five hours,” he said.

Harrington has been credited by art club members and Koza himself for “being a machine” because he has made about 100 bowls.

Koza began hosting this nationwide event in Solon in 2010. Every year besides the first, all the proceeds go to the Johnson County Crisis Center and Foodbank. This year's event was held April 6.

“In 2010, when we first started, the Haiti earthquake happened," Koza said. "We raised $13oo that year and donated the money to them as well. It was then split and bundled into several other organizations, such as the Red Cross.

"In 2011, we made $1800, followed by $2600 the year after. We’re hoping to break the $3000 barrier this (year).”

The event ended up raising $2,900.

During the day of the event, every art club member comes in at 7 a.m.  and begins to make various soups from scratch.

“My wife and mother come in and supervise while I’m out in the commons getting it set up,” Koza said. “Once those doors open at 11, it’s alway nice to see a line already formed, waiting to get in.”

The $10 to get in is used to purchase a bowl - from several hundreds - and encouraged to use it to enjoy soups.

“Most of the time, we use a little bit of money from the art club to advertise for the event, though we do have sponsors,” Koza said.

Every year, Koza said, has been well worth the effort and the event gets more and more successful.

“It never feels like a chore for any of us,” Kelsay said. "We're just a group of fun people and we just want to have a good time."

Harrington said it's “one of my hobbies. I think it’s fun. I would do it even if it wasn’t a community service."

Koza said the community deserves credit.

“I may have initiated it here, but it’s really the community that really turns out," he said. "Art is about individualism, but I wanted to do something that would somehow help the community. There is a difference between volunteering and a service learning. Volunteering is great, but you only come in for a few hours and then check out. Service learning is getting really into it and knowing the things that go on behind the scenes.

Students work hard year round to make this event happen. They begin the process of bowl making from the first day of school.

"I want to implement students to engage and to put forth something that benefits others," Koza said. "It models for the kids and young adults to show what really matters in the community. It’s really important to learn and value selfless acts.”

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