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Empty bowls, full hearts: Project aims to raise hunger awareness at RHS

As lunch options go, the single scoops of rice Gina Toso and Tracy Walter were offering last Thursday at Rosemount High School hardly seemed like the most appetizing choice. But, then, that was kind of the point.

The rice, and the ceramic bowls that went along with each scoop, were part of something called Empty Bowls, a project put together by the school's diversity group to raise awareness of poverty worldwide and to collect money for causes closer to home.

RHS choir teacher Gina Toso raised the idea after participating in a similar event in Phoenix, Ariz. The RHS diversity group sponsors events each month to raise awareness of diversity at the school and beyond.

At many Empty Bowl events participants are asked to fast for a day, then given a bowl of rice or a similar meal. The idea, Toso said, is to help people understand what much of the world lives on every day.

According to Oxfam America, 60 percent of the world's population eats the equivalent of a serving of rice per day.

"It's kind of a neat little thing. A simulation that the students can go through and they know they're doing a good thing," said Walter, a Spanish teacher at RHS. "We're not asking the students to fast at all. It's just an extra project."

For its first Empty Bowls project RHS recruited National Arts Honor Society students and others -- including several teachers and administrators who were interested in helping -- to make and glaze pottery bowls. With a handful donated by a local artist organizers ended up with 105 bowls. The idea was to sell the bowls -- along with that scoop of rice -- for $10. Money raised would go first to repay the art department for the supplies it had contributed, then to a local food shelf.

On Feb. 7 Walter and Toso sat in the lunchroom at RHS with the bowls laid out on a pair of tables. Around them they'd hung signs with messages like, "Every 3.6 seconds someone dies from hunger," or "One in 12 people worldwide is malnourished, including 160 million under the age of 5." They sold a few bowls right away as the first students came in, but there were plenty of lulls. Many students seemed uncertain what the project was all about.

From time to time Toso carried bowls around the room, making a pitch to students.

By the end of the last lunch there were about 70 bowls left. Several people had made donations without taking home any pottery, and after covering expenses the school was able to donate about $250 to the food shelf.

Walter plans to make the remaining bowls available at the school's culture fair later this spring.

"For our first effort I was very pleased," Walter said. "I think as word spreads it will get bigger."

Next year

Walter was encouraged enough by the response to start thinking about the second edition of Empty Bowls at RHS. She wants to make sure the event is advertised better next year. She suggested working with social studies teachers to get the word out.

She also hopes to involve members of the community, encouraging local potters to donate their work. She might have made one connection for that within the school walls. One of the school's custodians stopped by the table last week and told Walter he makes pottery in his spare time.

"I'm sure there's tons of people who do crafts and would be willing to contribute something," she said.

Anyone interested in participating next year can call Walter at RHS, 651-423-7501.