Blugold tackles food insecurity with local food bank

| Lucy Grogan-Ripp

In the state of Wisconsin alone, more than 250,000 households suffer from some level of food insecurity, as per research conducted by the USDA. Percentage wise, this places 12.4% of all state residents and 20.4% of all children in Wisconsin in an emergency state of hunger.

While these numbers do reflect a dismal reality, one Blugold’s service-learning project reminds us that not all hope is lost.

Kaitlin Mattis, a fourth year ceramics major with a Chinese certificate, is volunteering her time and talent with Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire to raise funds for individuals impacted by food insecurity.

Mattis, who learned of the project through UW-Eau Claire ceramics professor Susan O’Brien, has participated in Feed My People’s Empty Bowl fundraiser for the past three years. Each year, professor O’Brien and her ceramics students donate bowls and then attend the fundraiser together as a class.

The Empty Bowls fundraiser runs annually, where local art students and professional potters donate hand-crafted bowls that are used to serve hot meals. Proceeds from the event are then allocated to help children and families struggling with food insecurity.

For service-learning, Mattis is required to make 25 bowls for each event. However, she often goes above and beyond to make more than the required 25; a process, she noted, that is meticulous and time consuming.  

“This project is probably unlike a lot of other projects because it takes place a little at a time over the course of up to a month or two,” Mattis explained;

“Each bowl collectively takes about 45 minutes to make total. I start by throwing a bowl on the wheel, and then let it air dry for a day or so. When the clay has dried, it goes into our kilns for a bisque firing, which hardens the clay while still allowing it to absorb moisture. The firing takes about 12 hours and reaches a temperature of 1728 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, I apply glaze to the piece and fire it again to a higher temperature, which takes around 16 hours. When the bowls come out, all they need is a quick wash and they're ready for a lifetime of use.”

This may seem like a lot of work, but for Mattis, the hard work and long hours pay off. By the time the fundraiser rolls around, being able to sit back and watch her hard work auctioned off for the greater good is one of her most treasured experiences.

Mattis stated, “Being able to sit down and share a meal with [my classmates] while we watch our bowls go to their new homes is exciting and makes all of the hard work in the studio worth it...we’re able to help out those less fortunate than us, and time spent with my friends watching the fruits of our labor makes it all the more meaningful.”

On top of being able to witness firsthand the impact of her service-learning project, Mattis also noted that her project has helped her come to some important realizations about her own life.

“The project has really brought an appreciation for the fortunate life I have lived. The idea of going without food isn’t one that’s familiar to me, even at my lowest points. The thought of being able to help someone feed their family through the sale of my bowls is an incredibly amazing and humbling thought,” she reflected.

Although her service-learning requirement is already fulfilled, Mattis plans on continuing her project for a fourth consecutive year.

With Blugold’s like Mattis serving our local communities, there is hope in turning the number of food insecure homes in Wisconsin from 250,000 to none.