The Vandora Springs Elementary fourth-grade students in James Hunt’s art club sat quietly in the room and listened to the soft-spoken teacher tell them about the importance of the art project they were about to undertake.
“Do you know what compassion means?” he asked his 14 students. “That means you’re able to help someone else.”
Soon, Hunt’s students, will been helping to raise awareness for those who don’t have much to eat.
It’s called the “Empty Bowls Project,” a project Hunt has offered to his students for about 25 years. It is the 10th year at Vandora Springs.
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Each year his students use their artistic talents to create clay bowls. The bowls are then sold in exchange for food, which his class donates to Garner Area Ministries.
“It keeps it in the community and (Garner Area Ministries) has a lot of clients,” Hunt said about donating the food to the local food bank. “We’ve done it for a lot of years and it’s been a service to a lot of people.”
Makenzie Bates, 9, was excited to get started.
“We get to help people in need that need food and need it more than us,” Bates said. “It makes me feel really good because I get to help people and put it to good use.”
The Empty Bowls program is an international outreach, started by a teacher named John Harton. The concept was to invite guests to a simple meal of soup and bread. In exchange for a cash donation, guests are asked to keep a bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world.
Hunt tweaked it a bit and created his own project.
Instead of inviting guests for soup, Hunt asks members of the community to bring in 20 non-perishable food items. In exchange, they will get a bowl that his 4th grade students make. The bowls serve as a reminder that the recipient gave back to the community.
Hunt led it at his previous school Lincoln Heights in Fuquay-Varina before arriving at Vandora Springs.
Hunt said the event has been well supported in the past. Some come every year and have a collections of bowls. On average the event brings 2,000 food items. That means Hunt’s students have been able to donate about 50,000 food items over the years.
It’s a project some students say they were looking forward to.
“When I was little (in Kindergarten) I heard about the empty bowl project, and I’ve always wanted to do it,” said Lily Williams, 9. “It’s just that you’re helping the community and you’re making these awesome bowls. It’s so much fun.”
Gabby Guevara, 9, said her older brother, who had previously participated in the project, encouraged her to participate this year. She said she liked the meaning of the project and the fact that she could be creative.
“There are people who are hungry, and we should help them and care about them,” Guevara said. “Not just pass by them. They should think about what if they were like that, and people didn’t really care about them.”
According to ncfoodbanks.org, North Carolina has one the highest percentage in the U.S. of children under 18 years of age who are food insecure on a regular basis. About one in 4 children are food-insecure or lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
In Wake County, 52,480 students qualify for free or reduced lunch. That is 34 percent of all Wake County students.
Garner schools, in particular, have among the highest numbers of students on free or reduced lunch in the county.
“We probably have a lot of kids who are on free or reduced lunch here and it’s just a matter of trying to help them and serve them,” Hunt said. “Just seeing the population we have here at our school and other schools, I could imagine there are families here that are hurting.”
The project will be completed over the course of three months.