March 8, 2006 - As the students, adults and children shuffled into the high school cafeteria for a night of eating, drinking and rock 'n' roll, they picked a hand-painted ceramic bowl out of the hundreds displayed across a table. Each was colorful, unique and empty - a reminder of what the homeless and hungry face every day across Tucson and all over the country.
In its second year, the "Empty Bowls Project" was organized by a student group at Ironwood Ridge High School to raise money to feed and clothe the homeless. Family, Career, and Community, CCC Leaders of America, or FCCLA, members sold more than 120 $10 tickets to the March 3 banquet.
"We love doing it for the needy. Being there to help them out feels really good, it's a joy," said Brittany Ramynke, FCCLA vice president and an Ironwood Ridge senior.
In addition to one of the hundreds of bowls donated by the Southern Arizona Clay Artists, attendees were served an Italian dinner while they listened to a live performance from The Way Back Machine, a local classic rock band. Many also placed bids for some of the larger, most decorative pottery in a charity auction.
The students put the event together in about a month, although the extracurricular organizing wasn't easy, said senior Taryn Remme, an FCCLA member.
"It was stressful putting it together, but it was a lot of fun," Remme said. "We knew where the money was going, and it hits the heart and benefits a lot of people."
Forty percent of the proceeds will go to the Gospel Rescue Missions, a Christian-affiliated nonprofit organization that feeds, clothes and shelters the homeless as well as providing opportunities to obtain basic medical and dental care, GED certification and substance abuse counseling, said FCCLA advisor and Ironwood Ridge English Teacher Karen Penazek.
"I heard about (the Empty Bowls Project) at a teachers' convention and I said, 'I want to do that'," said Penazek, adding that the students were charged with making all the arrangements and selling tickets to the event. "It was a lot of work for a little money."
While about half the proceeds will pay for the food, 10 percent will pay for some FCCLA members to attend a state competition where the students compete against other schools in the fields of hospitality and entrepreneurship, Penazek said.
"We're hoping to get the word out, and we'd like for it to snowball so we can get more people and bigger bands every year," Penazek said.
Tom Woolley, guitarist for The Way Back Machine and a Pima Community College teacher in his day job, said the band was happy to donate its time for the event.
"One of our members has a friend whose daughter in a student (at Ironwood Ridge)," Woolley said. "Our band does a lot of benefit concerts."
Woolley describes his band's music as a mix of cover songs and originals in the style of 1960s and '70s rock.