Merrimack High School site of Empty Bowls, a National Art Honor Society fundraiser benefitting local food pantries

Dozens of varieties of soups and other donated edibles were enjoyed by nearly 300 participants attending Empty Bowls, an international art service project hosted for the sixth time by the National Art Honor Society and the Art Department at Merrimack High School at 38 McElwain St.

The biennial event, held at the school on the evening of March 26, raised funds for Merrimack food pantries operated by a trio of community institutions: Riverside Christian Church, 27 Depot St., St. James United Methodist Church, 646 Daniel Webster Highway, and St. John Neumann Church, 708 Milford Road. The events usually raise around $3,000 in donations that help those in need of food.

Local families in need of food assistance can arrange for help by calling St. James United Methodist Church at 424-7459. The pantry there provides non-perishable foods to around 40 families on a bi-weekly basis. The food pantry at Riverside Christian Church, 27 Depot St., also offers healthy food, clothing and other essentials to those of low income who call 424-1711. St. John Neumann, too, hosts a food pantry that is accessible with a call to 880-4689.

The Empty Bowls event featured handmade ceramic bowls designed by students during their art classes. Fine-grained clay was transformed either by hand or on a rotating pottery wheel into bowls that were painted, glazed and fired. The finished bowls ranged in hue from pastel to neon. Embellishments of polka dots, scalloped edges, stripes or other accents applied to the vessels made each one a unique work of art.

Heading the project were art teachers Marcy Pope, Joann Wegman, Shanna Gray and Carolyn Rordam. They surveyed the crowd and agreed they were witness to a successful event. Each emphasized the dedication of the students to the project and the high level of participation from many local restaurants and businesses. The donated soups included choices slow-simmered to please the most discriminating palate. A charitable donation of $13 per guest secured a bowl, selected by the donor and kept as a souvenir, plus an evening of all-you-can-eat soup, bread, pastries, coffee and other goodies.

Tom Mandra and his wife, Linda, residents of Nashua, were among those well satisfied with the fare.

“I had five great soups,” Tom said. “I had egg-drop soup, chicken noodle, seafood chowder, minestrone and spicy Thai vegetable.”

Linda Mandra, the coordinator of the Gifted and Talented Department at the school, favored some servings of the cream of broccoli soup and the seafood chowder.

“An event like this brings a social awareness to a high school,” Mandra said. “It gives students a chance to connect to real-world issues. It broadens their thinking.”

Kelsea Goodrow, a senior and the president of the National Art Honors Society, commended her fellow club members and all who supported the enterprise. She said a multitude of tasks were accomplished that made the event a success. Preparation included the making of the bowls, the washing of the fired bowls, the collecting of gallons of soup from the donors’ locations, the slicing seven boxes of bread and many other duties.

She said that 16 or more restaurants donated soup. Panera’s donated the seven boxes of bread and dozens of pastries. Starbucks contributed urns of hot coffee. Shaw’s and Target gave money and also supplies ranging from paper napkins, plates and silverware to salt-and-pepper sets and brownie mix. Goldfish crackers and jelly beans made agreeable appetizers. Trays of the nibbles were placed on each of dozens of cafeteria tables.

The officers of the National Art Honor Society – Kelsea Goodrow, president, Jessica Silva, vice president, Zoe Lanier, historian, Eric Ho, upcoming president, Josh Meier, secretary, and Tristan Lanier, treasurer – credited all who participated. The guests dined as tunes from student musicians heightened the ambiance of the evening.

A friendly greeter, Christine Aiello, a senior and National Art Society member, welcomed scores of soup lovers as they entered the cafeteria. The bowl she made was light blue with a top layer of green speckles. Aiello is bound for the University of New Hampshire after high school and intends to study Mandarin and computer science.

“We had a couple of days to glaze the bowls,” Aiello said. “The entire club took part in the project. Some bowls were made by building up coils of clay. Some were made on the (pottery) wheel.”

The Merrimack High School Glass Club supported the event by offering for sale some stained-glass luminaries and ornaments. Also for sale were sock monsters, colorful creatures made of knee socks, trouser socks and athletic socks of stripes and solid colors. A table that bore the fancies also was the center of attraction for an exhibit of paintings and some silent auction items – tea pots, fruit bowls and vases – rendered by faculty members.

Keith Liberty, of Merrimack, won the silent auction for a wide, shallow bowl glazed in a shade of coral. He paid $20 for the item, whose opening bid was $5. An original vase by art teacher Marcy Pope sold for $35. A navy-glazed teapot brought $10. Every dollar added to the pool of funds earmarked for the food pantries.

Jessica Silva, a senior, shared with the public one of her works of art, a cat rendered in colored pencil that was one of several artworks displayed for the occasion. The drawing, finely detailed in oranges, browns and yellows, won a blue ribbon at a recent art show hosted by the prestigious Nashua Area Artists Association. Beatrice Couser, 17, another artistic senior, constructed nearly a dozen of the sock monsters that reclined alongside the painting. She said around 20 of the whimsical creatures were sold at a price of $10 each.

“It shows how art can make a difference,” Couser said. “Most of the sock monsters get sold.”

The evening and the event finally waned. The supply of chowders and other soups in their big, shiny, stainless-steel stock pots diminished to the point where the pot needed tipping to enable a ladle to be filled with one, last serving. The dregs were carried to the cafeteria’s kitchen, the site where more volunteers dispatched the remains with hot water, soap and a rinse from a power sprayer.

Shaun Lanier, of Pembroke, awaited his twin offspring – Tristan and Zoe Lanier – both officers in the National Art Honor Society. The pair was busy with the others performing a thorough cleanup after the event. Shaun noted his pride in the way teens can get together to do something worthwhile for people who are in need.

“They’re raising awareness and raising money,” Shaun Lanier said of his kids. “The National Art Honor Society as a whole does such good things working for a common cause. The teachers are phenomenal – they always promote working together.”

For more information on the sixth biennial Empty Bowls event at Merrimack High School, call the school at 424-6204.