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Oxford luncheon to raise money for homeless

By Kate Agan, For The Miami Student

Oxford will host its annual benefit luncheon, Empty Bowls, on Saturday. Empty Bowls helps to raise awareness about the local hunger crisis.

There are currently 11 homeless families in Oxford, according to Connie Malone, a graduate student services coordinator for Project Dragonfly at Miami. Hunger, however, is an even greater problem: 33 percent of students in the Talawanda School District receive free or reduced lunch.

Malone has played a critical role in organizing Oxford Empty Bowls since it was founded in 2002.

"One of the things about Oxford is that homelessness and hunger are often relatively invisible problems," said Malone. "I think sometimes that because we have a relatively affluent student body, you're not necessarily aware of this problem."

The Empty Bowls luncheon seeks to educate community members about food insecurity in Oxford and raise money for locals who are hungry.

At the event, each attendee receives a handmade ceramic bowl, which they fill with soup prepared by volunteers. Guests get to keep their bowls so they are always reminded of their neighbors in Oxford who are hungry.

There is a $10 fee to attend the luncheon, though children who are 10 and under eat for free. In the past 12 years, Oxford Empty Bowls has raised over $60,000 for the Oxford Community Choice Food Pantry. All of the event's proceeds go directly to the pantry.

"The food pantry is incredibly grateful, because this is our biggest event," said Edna Southard, who is the pantry's board president. "It really brings in a huge number of people to contribute."

While the main purpose of Empty Bowls is to increase awareness and raise money, art is also an integral part of the event. Each year, Malone relies on people from all parts of the Oxford community to supply bowls for the luncheon.

This year, the majority of the bowls were donated by students from Kramer Elementary School and Talawanda High School, local potters, members of Miami's American Culture and English (ACE) program and a local cub scout den.

"It used to be Miami University ceramics students historically provided us with a base of about 600 bowls, but this year, they were not able to do that, [due to] curricular and health complications," said Malone. "It was kind of a regrouping year."

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In 2014, over 900 bowls were donated for the luncheon. These bowls ran out in just 90 minutes. This year, the coordinators of Empty Bowls anticipate an even greater shortage as the event continues to grow.

Malone said she believes the popularity of the luncheon shows just how tight-knit the Oxford community is.

"Everybody feels free to participate as a volunteer, and everybody feels free to come," she said. "I believe that Oxford Empty Bowls is one of the most inclusive events that Oxford offers for exactly those reasons."

Southard agrees.

"There are so many people from all walks of life, and they're all there and they're all participating and sharing. It's very much a community event."

This year's luncheon will take place from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Oxford Community Arts Center.