At Union, potters craft bowls (and a message)

An array of handmade dishes, which will be given as reminders to help the hungry at the Empty Bowls event on April 19. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)An array of handmade dishes, which will be given as reminders to help the hungry at the Empty Bowls event on April 19. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

By REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

SCHENECTADY — At Union College’s small, cozy ceramics studio just off of Nott Street, pottery wheels will be spinning during March. But there’s no ceramics course this term, and many of the creators in the workshop are beginners at the craft.

It’s all part of the college’s annual effort for Empty Bowls, a national grass-roots movement designed to be adapted to each community’s needs. At each event, the constant factor is the bowls: always created and donated by local craftspeople, and always representative of the many bowls in the community that sit empty on any given day.

“We use bowls as a way to raise money and raise awareness about the issues in our area,” said Gerardo Reyes, a senior at Union with a double major in biology and studio art. Reyes has participated in the Empty Bowls initiative for the past three years, but he estimates it’s been going on for seven or eight.

Union College student Kristofer Hammer works on a piece of pottery for the Empty Bowls project. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

Union College student Kristofer Hammer works on a piece of pottery for the Empty Bowls project. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

The bowls, which range from the size of a custard dish to a small serving bowl and are decorated in a variety of styles and tastes, will be the focal point of this year’s April 19 event at Proctors. They’re created by volunteers who attend free workshops at the ceramics studio, where instructor Nancy Niefield teaches newbies how to use a pottery wheel.

“I love working with the students and getting to watch them learn about the craft,” she said. “We usually mostly get people who have never done it before.”

After being fired and painted, the pottery is distributed at the event as part of the cost of a ticket — $10 for kids and $15 for adults, all of which is distributed between three local organizations: Schenectady City Mission, Bethesda House and Concerned for the Hungry. Attendees partake in a simple meal, usually soup and bread. Union College students provide live entertainment, and representatives from the beneficiaries of the fundraiser address the crowd.

In recent years, the event has drawn about 300 guests and raised about $3,000. But the ultimate purpose is to remind people that there is much more work to do.

According to research by nonprofit organization Feeding America, more than 18,000 people in Schenectady County had to worry about where they would find their next meal in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. These people, often referred to as “food insecure,” often rely on local support from places like the Schenectady City Mission, Bethesda House, and Concerned for the Hungry, where they can bridge the gap between meals when necessary.

Funds raised at the Empty Bowls event make a big difference to these organizations, but they don’t come close to closing the gap between the hungry and the well fed. Inviting people to take a bowl home helps ensure that the problem stays on their minds year-round.

Niefield said the number of people who come for the event and leave with that reminder grows each year.

“It’s nice that it involves the community,” she said. “People from all over come to it.”

Tickets to Union College’s Empty Bowls event from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at Proctors can be purchased from Union College’s Kenney Community Center. Tickets cost $10 for children and $15 for everyone else. Gluten-free and vegetarian dinner options will be available. For more information call 388-6609.

Union College student Kristofer Hammer works on a piece of pottery for the Empty Bowls project. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

Union College student Kristofer Hammer works on a piece of pottery for the Empty Bowls project. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.