Combating poverty with pottery“When most people think of hunger, they think of starving children in Africa, but there is hunger right here in Alexandria,” noted Jefferson High School (JHS) senior Ellen Lanman. Currently in Alexandria, 20.7 percent of the population lives under the poverty line and 7.4 percent are unemployed.
By: Caroline Roers, Alexandria Echo Press
“When most people think of hunger, they think of starving children in Africa, but there is hunger right here in Alexandria,” noted Jefferson High School (JHS) senior Ellen Lanman.
Currently in Alexandria, 20.7 percent of the population lives under the poverty line and 7.4 percent are unemployed.
“We wanted to help out and make an impact on people, which is what our service learning project – Empty Bowls – is all about,” Lanman added.
This student-run service learning project is a fundraiser to collect money for the food shelf, as well as raise awareness about poverty in Alexandria.
This project is entirely run by 33 students in the JHS Senior Social II class and through the hard work of students in numerous art classes.
“This project is great because the majority of the work is done by students,” said Senior Social II teacher Kelly Hilbrands. “But it also shows the community’s willingness to support the students in their efforts.”
The students spend about two hours a week in class and about one to five hours out of class on the project. There are nine different groups ranging from publicity and press to music and entertainment that work separately, but then correlate in order to produce the event.
“As part of the publicity team, we went on the radio and talked about the event,” said JHS senior Brandon Beliveau. “We also created flyers and made videos for the Brick Wall at school.”
The press team worked on getting the word out throughout the community through the written word, such as the Senior Perspective, Echo Press, church bulletins and the Chamber of Commerce.
Students in the service group team wrote a grant for Youth and Resources and presented at numerous organizations.
“One of the many things that impressed me about my students was the perseverance of the service group team,” Hilbrands recalled. “At this point, most service organizations are tapped out of means to donate. The ones who could help did, but there were few. Instead of giving up, my students did a great thing – they decided to go to organizations throughout the community that weren’t usually asked for donations but were willing to contribute.”
Because of the strong support from the community, the majority of the items needed for the event were donated.
“….we visited businesses and asked them for money to support the project,” said JHS junior Meghan Hartokolis. “It was surprising how many people were willing to help out – but it showed how much they cared.”
Along with the music, silent auction items and food, about 200 handcrafted clay bowls were also donated to the project by JHS art classes and a 6th grade class from Lincoln Elementary School.
THE FOOD SHELF
March is Food Shelf Awareness Month. During this month, a portion of the money donated to food shelves will be matched by charitable organizations – one of the many reasons why the students decided to donate to this cause.
“Toward the beginning of the project, we went to the food shelf and were able to see how much food they will be able to buy with our donation – it was really cool,” recalled Hartokolis.
“They also told us that, though they love food donations, it was better to donate money,” noted JHS senior Reanna Brede, “because they can buy a can of peas for five cents when we normally buy it for a dollar.”
For every dollar donated to the food shelf, North Country Food Bank, which helps distribute food to local food shelves, is able to provide up to five meals.
The Empty Bowls Project, sponsored by JHS, Alexandria Community Education and School District 206 Food and Nutrition, will take place at the JHS cafeteria on March 13 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for a handcrafted bowl and a meal of chili and cornbread, or $5 for just a meal. Tickets can be purchased at Community Education or at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf and Meals with Care.
Along with the meal, there will be a silent auction from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Artwork from around the community including watercolors and pottery, as well as themed baskets and gift cards, will be featured.
There will also be entertainment highlighting students and members of the community, including belly dancers.
“We taught a class to raise awareness about poverty in the community,” Brede said. “During the class, we discussed ways to help students who face poverty and also had a panel of students who gave their personal stories about living under the poverty line.”
Though the class was not well attended, this was the first opportunity where students were empowered to teach. In the next few years, Hilbrands noted that she hopes to expand on the class.
“There was a girl on the student panel who told us that she had recently gone to the food shelf – that made this project real for me, like we are actually helping people out,” Brede said. “It made me really take this experience to heart.”
In addition to this class, jars were placed at businesses throughout the community to collect donations for the food shelf. Last year, the Empty Bowls Project raised $3,500, but the students hope to raise more this year.
“With the economic depression, we want to raise more awareness, and make a bigger impact – people are depending on our hard work,” noted JHS senior Ashley Rabehl.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information, visit the website www.alexandria.k12.mn.us/emptybowls or call Lynn Ransom at (320) 762-5287.