On the campus of Georgia Southern University this month, professor Jeff Schmuki’s ceramics studio has been a busy place.
Production is full bore — hundreds of students and community members pounding, cutting and spinning clay in one room, some glazing finished products in another, while giant kilns fire in the background.
At times, the studio has more closely resembled a factory than a classroom.
The reason: “We are making bowls that will be filled with scoops of chili and sold at the university’s rotunda to raise money for charity,” Schmuki said.
The effort is part of the Empty Bowl Project, an annual affair hosted by the university and open to the community at large.
Each year, students — and, for two days, anyone else interested in helping — craft hundreds of clay bowls that are sold to benefit people in need in the region.
The custom bowls, filled with chili, will be sold Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Russell Union Rotunda. All proceeds will then be donated to the Statesboro Food Bank.
“Right here in our own community, there are people who don’t always have dinner,” Schmuki said. “This event is one way we can all join together and make a small difference in the community. There is certainly a need out there, and I think we have a responsibility to help our neighbors.”
This year, the professor is attempting to create the most bowls ever for an Empty Bowl Project event. He has tasked students with making bowls of their own and leading workshops with community members to produce several more.
“Students are learning civic responsibility and about how they can make a difference in their community. It is very important,” he said.
This year’s goal was about 400 bowls. As of Oct. 8, the studio had churned out well more.
“The turnout this year has been awesome. People seem to be really interested,” said Lindsay Deblasio, an art history major, who is in Schmuki’s advanced-level class. “It has been a lot of fun.”
Another student, Shelby Myers, said: “Everyone is doing a great job and has been really impressive. I think it is awesome to be able to help your community with something that you’ve actually made with your hands. It is cool and gives you pride in what you’re doing.”
The amount of money raised by the event has grown steadily over the last several years: $2,524 in 2009; $2,867 in 2010; $3,133 in 2011 and $3,930 in 2012.
“Last year, we collected nearly $4,000. This year, we hope to go beyond that,” Schmuki said.
Filled bowls will be given out in exchange for $10 donations. Additional contributions are also welcome.
In the past, chili and bowls have sold out quickly.
Deblasio said, for buyers — count her among them — the event is a win-win.
“You get chili and a piece of art and, in doing so, you contribute to the Statesboro Food Bank and the community,” she said.
According to organizers of the Empty Bowl Project, for every dollar donated, the Statesboro Food Bank is able to provide the equivalent of seven meals to someone in need.
The food bank is the largest charitable food supplier in the area, serving Tattnall, Candler, Screven, Bulloch and Toombs counties.
Schmuki said he encourages everyone in the community to attend the event.
“Please come on out, and get there early, because the bowls go fast,” he said. “The bowl serves as a daily reminder that there are people out there who don’t always have dinner and that you can make a difference in those lives.”
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.