The Times West Virginian

March 10, 2014

Volunteers lend talents to upcoming Empty Bowls Luncheon

By Chelsi Baker
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — “We have plenty of bowls,” said Jeff Greenham, ceramics professor and the coordinator of Fairmont State University’s art department.

Fairmont State students, faculty and staff have been working to make bowls that will be donated to the United Way’s Empty Bowls Luncheon on Sunday.

Empty Bowls is a grassroots effort started by potters to help support organizations that feed the hungry. Guests choose a bowl when they arrive at the soup luncheon and can take the bowl with them when the event is over. The bowls symbolize those in the community who don’t have enough to eat.

Their bowls are empty.

The United Way sponsors Marion County’s Empty Bowls Luncheon, which will be from 1-5 p.m. Sunday, March 16, at Blackshere and East Dale elementary schools.

Fairmont State volunteers partnered with Mountain Creative in Fairmont and Blackshere Elementary School to provide more than 400 bowls for the event.

The effort has gone on for months.

“In order to prepare for that, we had to start before Christmas to make enough bowls to meet the projections of hopefully 400 attendees,” Greenham said. “We worked through the Christmas break here on campus making bowls and have been going through the firing process to finish the bowls since then.”

It all started this year with a nearly two-week-long “bowl-a-thon,” during which 30 students, faculty and staff crafted bowls by hand.

“People were here all day, every day, making bowls,” Greenham said.

The bowls dry for two or so days and then are cleaned up and treated. They are left to dry for around two weeks so the clay can harden. Then the bowls go in a kiln for a bisque firing, which reaches 1,850 degrees. It takes 16 hours to reach that temperature, and the bowls remain in the kiln for two days once they’re fired. They are then unloaded, glazed and put into another kiln to be fired at 2,300 degrees to melt the glaze and completely harden the clay. This process takes 12 hours to reach maximum temperature and then two days to cool the bowls.

“The kiln can only hold so many bowls, so over the course of the next several months, we would do the initial firing, and then students would come back and glaze bowls and then load them up and do the glaze firing,” said Greenham. “We would keep repeating that cycle until we got all the bowls we made in that initial two weeks fired. We just, in the last two weeks, completed all of those firings.”

Those attending the luncheon will be able to choose from bowls of many different shapes and colors. The bowls are all one of a kind.

“A majority of the bowls made here at Fairmont State are hand-thrown in the potter’s wheel, and since different people made them, they all are very individual,” said Greenham.

He has been involved with the Empty Bowls project in the various places he’s lived and worked, and he started the effort here through the luncheon in Morgantown.

He contacted the United Way in Marion County, which agreed to sponsor a luncheon here to benefit organizations including the Soup Opera, the Mannington Food Pantry and the Salvation Army.

Greenham said the experience is fulfilling for students and volunteers, who get to use skills they’ve learned in ceramics classes to help others.

“The need keeps growing at these places for support to help do what they do and to help support those who are hungry in the community,” he said. “The ultimate underlying idea is that it helps to raise money for these organizations that do so much good within the local community, and that was why it became important for us that our efforts helped places that were here, close to home, in Marion County.”

Tickets for the luncheon are $15 for adults and $5 for children and are still available.

For more information, call the United Way at 304-366-4550.

Email Chelsi Baker at or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.