Every year, the sixth grade team brings a reminder of what life was like during the 1930s to the Norfolk Academy campus through “Bowls for the Hungry,” an evening that combines history, art, and music education.
While the event, held this year in the newly expanded Youngkin Refectory, cannot truly recreate a soup kitchen, the evening offers opportunities to reflect on that Depression era experience and the enduring problem of poverty in the United States.
A line snaked from Price Auditorium into the refectory on Thursday night, as the sixth graders and their families waited to receive a bowl of soup, a piece of bread, some fruit, a dessert item, and a beverage – all for a small fee; proceeds from the event are donated to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia.
Families were served by the sixth grade faculty and then joined other families for a meal at circular tables. Accompanying a bowl of fruit that served as a centerpiece, each table provided multiple infographics that the sixth graders created on iPads and computers inside the classroom.
The students spent several weeks learning about the Great Depression and researching topics to prepare the infographics for the evening. They compared life in the early 20th century to life today; topics included taxes, welfare, unemployment rates, free school lunch programs, and statistics denoting the number of people who suffer from hunger. According to the World Bank, 769 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, making them among the world’s very poorest; of those, 3.2 million live in the United States.
This last topic caused Hannah Stredler ’24 to pause and give thought. “Knowing how many people are going hungry when we have all of these options in the refectory makes me want to donate to lots of different charities,” she said.
Her classmate, Ann Gray Golpira ’24 shared a similar philanthropic spirit. “Since we were making the bowls, I was happy to know they would end up helping a good cause,” she said, “I was surprised by the amount of food that goes to waste.”
In addition to conducting research in their social studies classes, each student made a ceramic bowl in art class. The meal fee included each student’s bowl, which families took home at the end of the evening. Hannah glazed her bowl to resemble a watermelon. There were solid colors, patterns of flames and original designs, others with stripes or polka dots, and one decorated with waffles by Susie Guzik ’24, as a tribute to her favorite television character, Eleven from “Stranger Things.” No matter the design, all of the students were excited to show off their bowls to their peers and family members.
The event has evolved since it started over six years ago. Three years ago, the Lower School band was invited to perform music from the Great Depression era. Starting last year, one of the sixth grade classes began donating canned goods as part of their participation efforts. Earlier this month, the coordinator from the Community Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia came to NA to speak to the sixth graders about foodbank efforts, including who benefits from the monetary and food donations.
“It’s pretty remarkable; we learned that for every $1 donated, it can create three and a half full meals,” said Susan Duquette, Assistant Director of the Lower School. “The warehouse distributes the food to churches and different touch points within the community.” Mrs. Duquette started the event after she was inspired by a similar fundraiser at Virginia Wesleyan University.
Michael Hurley, sixth grade math teacher, thought the evening was important for a number of reasons. “This is a great cross-curricular activity. The students are able to experience a soup kitchen environment, and it’s a great way to get everyone together outside of the classroom.”
Patty McLaughlin, Lower School Director, agreed. “This event is comprised of many layers. It is a simple community event for folks to share a meager meal together,” she said. “It creates a platform for parents and families within our NA community to come together outside of classroom or extracurricular events.”