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Ceramics and Soup Prove Perfect Combination for T.A.S.K. Fundraiser


From left, artists Nevin Schleider, Christina Young, club adviser Kerri O'Neill, Jessica Valenza, Anna Kaster and Chef instructor Frank Benowitz.

Doing a brisk business for TASK.

Jessica Valenza with her newly purchased mug filled with hot chocolate.

Faculty members Mitch Canter (Radio), Tina LaPlaca (Advertising + Graphic Design) and Mauro Zamora (Digital Media Arts) supported the fundraiser.

From left, Anna Kaster, Frank Benowitz and satisfied customer Lorena Abad.

West Windsor, N.J. – With midday temperatures hovering in the 30s on Dec. 5, Mercer County Community College (MCCC) staff and students had a satisfying way to warm up with soup and hot chocolate while supporting a good cause.

The MCCC Visual Arts Club and Hospitality Club teamed up for a fundraiser to benefit the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). Approximately 20 ceramicists worked throughout the fall to produce close to 150 bowls and mugs in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. On the day of the fundraiser, culinary students joined in, preparing two kinds of soup (Mulligatawny and butternut squash) to fill the bowls and hot chocolate made with three types of chocolate to fill the mugs.

Health Professions student Lorena Abad said she has a thing for hot chocolate. “I am a big fan. This is the best ever.”

Added art student Jessica Valenza, “You get food, you get pottery and you help a good cause. What’s better than that?”

The fundraiser was the brainchild of Visual Arts Club President Anna Kaster, who began planning the event last spring with support from Fine Arts faculty members Kerri O’Neill and Michael Welliver.

“They gave us space to store the bowls and added to the total themselves. And they helped us organize as the day approached,” Kaster said. She notes that art students, including local artists who use Mercer as their studio, were very generous, contributing as many as ten pieces each to the project.

Eager customers began showing up even before noon to select their favorite pieces of pottery and have them filled by culinary instructor Frank Benowitz. The cost was just $10 for a bowl and $5 for a mug. “We wanted to make it affordable for everyone,” said Kaster, noting that some MCCC folks paid more than the asking price to up the proceeds, which totaled $515.

The success of the project was particularly gratifying for Kaster, who has come to see MCCC as a second home and her fellow ceramicists as a huge extended family. With previous careers in welding and sports rehabilitation, Kaster is now pursuing her number one passion – the arts. From her first wheel-throwing class in 2011, she realized “there was something I wanted to tap into there.”

Derailed by illness for several years, Kaster returned to MCCC in the fall of 2017. She says it was almost as if they were waiting for her. “When I walked into the ceramics studio, Professor Welliver pulled a piece down from the shelf that I had made in 2011.” She also had students coming up to her with tools that still had her name on them.

“My tools had been there for six years,” she remarked.

Kaster says Mercer is clearly where she belongs. “I want to do anything I can to give back to the place that gave me myself back. And, I want the community to understand the talent of the artists who pass through this college. It is really quite amazing.”

Working with club adviser Kerri O’Neill, Kaster restarted the Visual Arts Club in the spring. Their first fundraiser was a “Pick a Pot” sale. Proceeds of that sale went to ceramics workshops at the college, one taught by Rachelle Picarello in the fall and one coming up in the spring with Sue Chiu.

Kaster explains, “Through these workshops, students can have their hands in the clay without signing up for a full semester to see if it’s something they want to pursue.”

“As for me,” Kaster said, “I have absolutely found what I want to do when I grow up.”

Visual Arts Programs at Mercer

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