Feats of Clay: Fired up Against Hunger

“Service Learning.” Loosely translated, it means combining good works with classroom lessons. And it’s a big deal at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where Anna Greidanus, Professor of Art, teaches Ceramics.

For the third straight year, her students have exemplified service learning by selling their ceramic creations to raise money for Feeding America West Michigan. Most recently, they raised $1,000 in two 2011 holiday sales – enough to provide $10,000 worth of groceries to hungry West Michigan families.

The funds were raised at two campus events: the Calvin Visual Arts Guild show, attended almost exclusively by art students, and the larger Fair Trade Fair, which featured vendors from around the world. The latter event was the first time students sold to a college-wide audience. According to Anna, the sale’s success was “positive reinforcement for their work and their cause.”

In class, as her students study and make bowls, cups and plates, Anna encourages them to consider what the pieces are used for. “Although I teach ceramics as sculpture, I also emphasize the utilitarian nature and history of clay forms. I use vessels as a vehicle to get students thinking about food.”

Calvin students are thinking a lot about food these days, she says. Generally, today’s students are “more thoughtful than ever about their diets, and also about food production and distribution, worldwide and here in the U.S.”

Her students seem to grasp the relationship between food distribution and hunger “right here in Grand Rapids, where they can see homeless people lining up outside soup kitchens every day.”

By raising money for the Food Bank, ceramics students help ensure that food distribution doesn’t bypass their poorest neighbors. They also help students and faculty understand the prevalence of hunger here in West Michigan – and the most effective way to combat it.

Both the fund-raising and the heightened awareness “integrate meaningfully into a holistic learning experience,” Anna points out. In other words, supporting the Food Bank helps put the “service” into “service learning.”