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Empty Bowls

Empty Bowls dinner raises thousands for three area charities.

When Gwenn Zaberer?s students at Long Branch Elementary took to the pottery wheel this year, they learned more than just art. They learned about charity and good will.

Students put hours of hard work into original pieces of artwork, and then gave up those pieces, all to help people they had never seen. ?The kids really like the idea of making it for someone else who doesn?t have what they can have,? said Zaberer.

Student artists were just a few to contribute to the 10th annual Empty Bowls, a charity event sponsored by the Clay Connection, on Friday, April 11. Organizers expected 850 people to come to this year?s event, which raises money for Food for Others, So Others Might Eat and United Community Ministries, three local organizations that help feed the hungry in the metropolitan area. Instead, nearly 1,000 people packed the Washington-Lee High School Cafeteria 6-9 p.m. on Friday.

By 5:30 p.m., dozens were already gathered to view the bowls and choose their favorites. At the stroke of 6, organizers cut the yellow caution tape that had separated people from the hundreds of bowls, and the mad dash began. Empty Bowls is a first-come, first-served system, so the first person to select a particular bowl owned the bowl. Each bowl cost just $15. That price also entitled the purchaser to bread and a bowl of soup provided by area restaurants.

The process has a specific meaning, organizers say. After the meal, each empty bowl serves as a reminder that poverty keeps someone else?s bowl empty all the time. The Image/RENDER Group of Oxford, Mich., came up with the concept more than a decade ago as a way of encouraging people to do more to help less fortunate in communities around the country.

CLAY CONNECTION, a Merrifield-based group of pottery artists, spent months organizing this year?s event. Marsha Finnerty, the lead organizer, coordinated over 100 volunteers to make the event run smoothly. It was a major undertaking, she said. ?I have not had time to pot in the last three months.?

Other Clay Connection artists were busier with pottery. Sheila Ford donated 35 bowls, plus a piece of pottery art for the silent auction. That represents a significant amount of time. Creating one piece of pottery involves a four-step process, she said, including two 24-hour firings.

Ford wasn?t the only one who was willing to put in the time. ?A lot of our potters believe in giving back and helping the hungry,? she said.

That?s what makes Empty Bowls such an interesting event, said Richard White, an ?aspiring neophyte potter.? He came to Saturday night?s event not just to help the less fortunate, but also for inspiration. ?I was just looking for something interesting that I might learn from,? he said.

Empty Bowls succeeds in bringing art into a practical realm he said. ?It?s something, that starving artists can help starving people,? said White. ?It?s a very interesting synthesis of art and charity.?

GIVING ARTISTS a practical outlet is part of the goal for Joan Bickelhaupt, chair of the art department at Washington-Lee. ?What we?ve been able to do is focus our students? attention to this event,? she said.

Bickelhaupt involves her students through the Everybody Bowls project, which brings local artists to Arlington classrooms to teach pottery. Now in its third year, Bickelhaupt and Zaberer secured funding from the Washington Post Grant for the Arts and the Arlington Education Fund to form a partnership between Washington-Lee and Long Branch. High school students now learn from artists and their teachers and then pass that knowledge down to elementary students.

Students? creations were some of the most popular at Friday?s Empty Bowls dinner. That was no surprise to Robyn Doyle, a Marymount University graduate who completed her student teaching with Bickelhaupt.

Students respond to pottery lessons with enthusiasm, and often with great skill, she said. ?It?s really frustrating when the kids are doing better than you,? she joked.