Geared toward bringing awareness to the hunger issue facing the city, God’s Storehouse is preparing for its annual fundraiser later this month.
Dubbed Empty Bowls, the event presents diners with a simple meal and a symbol of remembrance.
Embarking on the sixth year of the fundraiser, Karen Harris, executive director at God’s Storehouse, hopes for a big turnout. The nonprofit Danville-based food pantry — with help from board members and local businesses — aspires to sell out of 450 tickets for this year’s event.
Featuring donated soups from local restaurants, $20 per person will purchase not only a bowl of soup along with bread and crackers, but each guest also will leave with a handmade bowl.
The bowls are donated pieces of custom art crafted by local professionals and students.
Jonathan Scollo, a local potter and instructor at the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, plans to donate 100 bowls to the event. He first started making pottery in college when he took a ceramics class.
According to Scollo, who’s taught pottery for two decades, students often express there’s more to the process than meets the eye.
“When people take the class, they go, ‘Wow, it takes a lot to make a little bowl.’ Then they go, ‘Now I know why these handmade pottery things are not like $5. Now I know why they sell bowls and cups and things for $20, $25, $30,’” Scollo said. “There’s a lot involved into making them.”
For the fundraiser, Scollo typically produces 10 to 15 bowls during one sitting, performing the same action to each piece as it goes down a lengthy assembly line of sorts.
“To make a bowl, of course you start with a lump of clay and you put in on the wheel,” Scollo said.
Throwing, as it’s called, takes between three and four minutes — that’s when a potter forms a ball of clay into a more distinguishable shape, like a bowl, plate or cup.
When Scollo is satisfied with the general shape of the object, he lets it dry until the clay has the consistency of leather. Then, he works on the item’s rim.
Once the item dries completely, Scollo puts the piece in a kiln — a heating device comparable to an oven but one that gets much hotter.
“We do the first firing to about 1,500 or 1,600 degrees and that turns it into a ceramic material, where we can actually put the glaze on it,” Scollo said. “The glaze is kind of like a glass coating. When you get it in the store, it has that shiny glaze on it.”
Once the piece is either painted with glaze or dipped into a tub of glaze, it goes back into the kiln to set the colors.
“At that temperature, the clay actually vitrifies. That means the particles of clay actually are fused together real tightly,” Scollo said. “Then the glaze melts and it makes a nice, functional bowl.”
While Scollo plans to donate approximately one-fourth of the bowls to the fundraiser himself, others also are busy making dishes. Harper Scollo, a senior at Averett University and the potter’s daughter, also plans to donate handmade bowls to the event. In addition, some of Scollo’s students are getting in on the action.
“This year, we’ve got something special. Karen [Harris] and her husband, Matt [Harris], both have been in the class making bowls. They’re planning on making 100 between the two of them,” Scollo said. “It’ll be a real treat. I’m sure people will be looking to find one of their bowls this year to take home.”
Local students and four art teachers at George Washington High School also offered to donate 200 bowls. Frances Viden, Danville Public Schools lead art teacher and department head, led out in the initiative.
High school students use two distinct methods to create the bowls they donate to the event.
“Some of our bowls are hand built with slabs and coils, while others are thrown on the potter’s wheel. The hand building process typically takes a few days longer, while wheel building can take as few as two classes,” Viden said. “There is a waiting period while the bowls dry out completely. Once the bowls are dry, they must be fired, then glazed and fired again. The entire process spans about three weeks.”
In addition to promoting students’ creativity, the initiative also allows teenagers to be part of the solution to a big problem in the area — one that isn’t always noticed.
“To give them an opportunity to share their gifts, their talents, give them an opportunity to give back, it creates awareness,” Harris said. “They’re our future.”
Viden also expressed the importance of the fundraiser in her own classroom setting.
“We discuss the effect the bowls have on our community very early on in the semester,” Viden said. “Food insecurity may hit very close to home for students and it gives them the power to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Those purchasing the warm meal and bowl also are part of the solution.
“It may be hard for people to understand what it may be like to be hungry because they’ve never been hungry,” Harris said. “There might have always been food in the cupboard and in the refrigerator, but there are so many who live paycheck to paycheck or don’t know where the next meal’s coming from.”
By participating, attendees have a subtle reminder in their cupboards.
“It’s a great fundraiser,” Scollo said. “You get the bowl and when you take home the bowl, it’s a symbol to remind you that there are bowls out there with people who don’t have anything in them.”
In the past, Empty Bowls raised upwards of $8,000 for God’s Storehouse. This year, Harris is shooting for $10,000.
The money raised will assist the food pantry by going toward its generalized operating costs.
“We have to pay bills just like any other business,” Harris said. “We have utility bills and insurance and gas for our vehicles and supplies and things like that, so these funds will help us cover those costs.”
For those unable to attend the fundraiser, but are still interested in helping the cause, additional ways to assist the group include giving monetary donations, volunteering, holding food drives and helping upkeep the urban garden.