Mud Club’s Empty Bowls Event goes virtual

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Each bowl is engraved to show that it’s a part of the Empty Bowls event. Photo by Meliha Anthony.

Saraya Velez, Deputy Sports Editor

The Emmaus High School Mud Club presented their recently released bowls for the 10th anniversary of their annual Empty Bowls event with it being one of the most successful years amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apart from working on bowls for the Empty Bowls event, the Emmaus High School club also creates other ceramic pieces from plates, to birdhouses, to marionette-like figures. The EHS Mud Club added their own kick to Empty Bowls. There’s an engraving in each bowl that signifies that it is a bowl that is a part of the Empty Bowls event.

Empty Bowls first began in 1990 and is seen as a pioneering service project that first took place at Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was led by art teacher John Hartom as a way to encourage students’ to be involved in a local food drive. The idea was to host a lunch where students could create ceramic bowls that would then be used for soup that faculty and staff could eat from. From this lunch, students would ask for donations to raise money for the food drive according to Emptybowls.com. 

To accelerate the process, EHS art teacher Lisa Caruso creates the bowls while students in Mud Club glaze them. She says that by doing this, it allows for more bowls to be made and a smoother process overall. Behind the scenes, arrangements are made for pickup and delivery of bowls by Caruso since students are not permitted to do so due to COVID-19 regulations. Caruso describes this year’s challenges as “different” than others. 

The event began in different locations before moving to EHS. The first two years, it was held at the McKenzie Institute before relocating to Eyer Middle School and finally EHS. According to Caruso, the load was more manageable and the event saw greater success when held in the EHS cafeteria. When held in different locations, Caruso and the Mud Club would have to pack up the bowls into boxes and transport them but now, they only have to be taken on a cart down to the cafeteria.

In previous years, there would be a countdown for the annual event but this year it was ongoing. Instead of the students in Mud Club being a part of the creation of the bowls, they were only able to decorate them. This was due to the time constraints between the release of each of the bowls. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they would be able to help in the bowl-making process but given the current circumstances, it placed a heavier weight on Caruso. 

The purpose of this event is to raise funds and spread awareness for families who experience hunger. In Pennsylvania, one in seven children experience food insecurity while one in nine experience it overall according to Feeding America. Apart from individuals who experience food insecurity, Feeding America also estimates that one-third of families in Pennsylvania rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to sustain their need for food. These families, as well as others, facing hunger in Pennsylvania are estimated to need $737 million to collectively combat hunger.

To many students in Mud Club, the Empty Bowls Event is something they look forward to each year and for Mud Club president Lindsay Ott, it was a rewarding experience. 

“Empty Bowls is such an amazing event because we get to use our passion for ceramics to help the community,” Ott said. “Being a part of an event like this is truly amazing [and] it’s such a good feeling knowing that the Mud Club members and I are making a positive change.” 

For students, it proved to be an unexpected turn of events. 

Although the event moved online, students were still adamant about giving back to the community by doing what they enjoy. When designing the bowls, Ott’s frequent designs include flowers and many different colors.

“Members of Mud Club have the freedom to create any design on the bowls to make them unique,” Ott said. “I love to glaze the bowls with different colors and sculpt flowers to attach to the bowls’ surfaces.”

Mud Club partners with the Angel Network to ensure that all proceeds go to feeding families within the East Penn community. Volunteers or what Caruso refers to as “angels” volunteer to assist with carrying out the basic functions of the events. They provide the soup for the event, oftentimes bringing in crockpots from local restaurants. In past years, there were as many as 22 varieties of soup to be served. Apart from monetary donations, donations also come in the form of grocery store gift cards to give to families that are a part of the Angel Network.

As of this year, the largest amount raised among all years was an estimated $4,000 according to Caruso. She says that although the amount collected this year is unknown, this is most likely the second-best year. By having an online outlet, the outreach was larger and as of May 14, there have been seven releases of bowls. In the event that there are leftover bowls from a release, Caruso leaves them up on the website in hopes they will be sold later on. 

With the pandemic came many obstacles, Caruso mentions one of the largest obstacles she encountered this year was the promotions. 

“It’s still good to go through a promotion process but it really took us away from the typical making of the bowls [and] the glazing of the bowls,” Caruso said. “I think that was a huge challenge this year, and unfortunately it was more my challenge than anyone else’s because the students made the website and a poster, but I took all the pictures and I made all the slideshows and I released all the releases for sale.”

Without the presence of over half of the students in the building and fewer opportunities to have involvement in this event, the club improvised and made adjustments as needed. Instead of holding an in-person event, the Empty Bowl Event saw its first virtual version. Although this year required the Mud Club to reshape the event model, it yielded a greater outcome than anticipated. Caruso is appreciative of each student that contributed to the success of the Empty Bowl event and commends them for their dedication. 

“I’m always happy to work with them and, you know, they can be proud of themselves. They wanted to have the event this year, so they were the ones that really pushed for it and I’m proud of them,” Caruso said.