Six years ago, Menomonee Falls High School art instructor Terra Chmielewski started a school district-wide event that she had been researching for a decade.

Empty Bowls — an international project to fight hunger — is pretty simplistic in concept, but powerful in its symbolism.

It’s a fundraising event where an intentionally basic meal of soup, bread and water is served; in turn, participants take home an empty bowl to serve as a reminder that there is always someone hungry around the world.

Chmielewski was an art teacher at the junior high in Menomonee Falls for 12 years before she moved up to the high school.

“I thought with the high school students, I could really pull this off,” Chmielewski said. “I talked to my ceramic students first to see if they wanted to conquer it — and they wanted to — but said they would need more help"

So, she asked the art honors society students to be the main sponsor of the event and completely run it.

"From there, the kids developed everything," Chmielewski said. "They brainstormed where we could get soup and bread, paper products, what time of year would be best; the kids just came up with so many ideas.”

Art students in every school of the district create the ceramic bowls for the event. All of the proceeds raised are donated to the Menomonee Falls Food Pantry.

After this year's empty bowls event on Friday, Jan. 5, the fundraising goal of $2,000 was quickly met. To date, the event has yielded more than $11,000 for the food pantry.

“The students work everything — they set up all the tables, centerpieces, bowls, and they work in the kitchen, serve everything and clean,” Chmielewski said. “There’s shifts of students that come in and do everything. There’s a student supervisor for each area, so the students truly run it. They see what it takes to run an event. They don’t get paid for it, but they see how good it feels after. The students deliver the money to the food pantry, also.”

This fundraising effort is not only serving as a reminder to the community that there is always someone going hungry worldwide, but that they could be hungry in the house next door.

“I honestly think so many students do so many wonderful charity events, especially at the high school for other areas, even abroad and in Europe, and they don’t think about their own communities sometimes,” Chmielewski said. “There’s so many families in the Menomonee Falls area, including Germantown and Sussex, in need, and with the economic situation the way it has been the last couple of years, there’s so many students that go hungry. The students realized their artistic skills can be a wonderful philanthropic activity to help out with their own community first — and they learned that. They didn’t know the food pantry depends on this money every year that comes in.”

If every school district in southeastern Wisconsin participated in the Empty Bowls event, imagine how the face of hunger could be changed in our community.

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