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Haddonfield Middle School students use art to aid food insecure

Busy hands make ‘empty bowls’ to help regional nonprofit.

Bowls made by Haddonfield Middle School seventh and eighth graders can be purchased, or a donation can be made, to aid the South Jersey Food Bank. (Photo credit: Erika Gehringer/Special to the Sun)

The famous motto of MGM Studios, “Art for art’s sake,” is a phrase that has endured into the 21st century. But Haddonfield Middle School’s art department has put a modern twist on the saying, with its seventh and eighth graders banding together to create individual masterpieces for those in need. 

The project, dubbed HMS Empty Bowls, helps the Food Bank of South Jersey. The nonprofit, like many others, is grappling with issues of food insecurity and solvency as restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented the public from venturing outdoors to either volunteer or donate goods. 

“This is the first time we’ve done this outside of school,” said HMS art teacher Erika Gehringer. “I made a video a couple weeks ago talking about an event (which was to occur on May 28) where people could come and see the bowls in person and buy them, but because of everything that’s going on, we’re not going to do the event. But we still have these bowls available.”

Gehringer needed a way to promote the bowls and their mission, and quickly, because the eighth graders who made them would be promoted to high school by the middle of June. She and HMS Principal Tracy Matozzo eventually came up with the charitable solution. 

“We decided to create the website, and so people can either buy a bowl or donate to the food bank directly,” Gehringer explained. “I feel badly for the kids since we’ve been talking about doing that public event for the last two years, but this is a way to do something small for the greater good.”

In the video, Gehringer estimated her students — along with contributions from some faculty members — were able to fashion more than 300 bowls for this labor of love. Upon further review, she was pleased to be wrong. 

“I revisited that estimate, and it was actually closer to 400,” Gehringer noted. “We were making bowls right up until the day school shut down and we went virtual.

“A typical bowl takes about a couple weeks to make: They have to dry, they have to be molded in a slug mold, they have to fire them and then we have to engrave them,” she added. 

“The kids can design them any way they want.” 

In lieu of the above-mentioned public event, and with the project’s online presence, the public and artists themselves will have a small window of opportunity to either reclaim their goods or display them for purchase. 

“We didn’t know how we were going to distribute the bowls at first, because the restrictions were for gatherings of fewer than 10 people,” Gehringer said. “So we’re going to have a window of a few days at the end of the school year when students  come back in and clean out their lockers.”

Tentative plans are for the displays to occur at the middle school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., from June 15 to 18. 

Gehringer said in the brief time the site and video have been online, with  promotion from Matozzo, HMS has raised over $400. Naturally, they’re looking for more residents and other concerned locals to help the cause. 

“I know I felt the struggle of figuring out what I could do and how to contribute, and we came up with this inspiration, which is just a little part of how we are helping others in this time,” Gehringer added.

“Art can be therapeutic, but it can do good for others in need.”

For more information on the project, to buy a bowl or to make a donation, visit: https://sites.google.com/haddonfield.k12.nj.us/hms-empty-bowls//

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