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Linda Mah
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Empty Bowls, Full Hearts

Prairie Ridge Students Make Bowls for Loaves & Fishes Fundraiser

“Empty Bowls,” the annual Prairie Ridge Elementary School fundraiser benefiting the food bank Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes will take place several months earlier this year.

The event, which features handmade bowls by students and staff as well as food and music, will be held 5:30-7 p.m. Feb. 8 at Prairie Ridge, 2294 S. Ninth St. The cost is $5 per family and every $5 admission comes with a ticket to select one student-made bowl. The event is open to the public.

Teacher Douglas Duncan has organized the event for 11 years, and said he hopes the earlier date will eliminate some of the scheduling conflicts parents have had with the traditional spring date.

Duncan started the Prairie Ridge fundraiser after being inspired by an event at Kalamazoo College. That activity was too expensive for his students to attend, so he created his own version of the fundraiser, which raises an average of about $2,000 for the nonprofit every year. The majority of those funds come from the silent auction of bowls made by staff, Kalamazoo Valley Community College students, and community members.

Students craft their bowls out of clay and glaze them with a food-safe glaze. On the day the Excelsior visited, the students were glazing their bowls.

“Empty Bowls” is not just a lesson in charity. It’s a lesson in art, too. The students have decorated the bowls with designs embedded into their clay, and before they began to add glaze, Duncan talked to them about creating patterns and provided some examples on a test bowl.

While they glazed their bowls, Duncan told the students that the glaze is not paint but glass. When their pieces are put in a kiln and fired to 2,000 degrees, the silica in the glaze melts creating the hard, durable, shiny finish they saw on the examples around the room.

The use of glazes is what has preserved pottery that people still find from ancient cultures. The students were excited to contribute to the dinner and to know they are helping others.

Allison Chase said her grandmother’s church sponsors refugees, and that they sometimes help the families go to Loaves & Fishes to select food. The food bank provides them with food basics, and it also helps them try new American foods, she said.

Serenity Lowery is contributing a bowl for the second year — students in third, fourth, and fifth grade make bowls for the fundraiser. She likes the project because she likes working with clay and glaze, but mostly, “I want to give my bowl to somebody.”

Duncan said he continues the project in part, because he appreciates what Loaves & Fishes does for the community, including many families at Prairie Ridge, but also because, “I love the combination of art and students being able to help others.”

For more information, contact Duncan at duncanda@

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