Empty Bowls is an international hunger relief effort, but its events are organized at the local, grassroots level. Oxford’s chapter, founded by Camilla Flinterman and Alice Laatsch, began in 2002.
Each year, Empty Bowls is held on the second Saturday of November. Guests contribute $15 and are provided with a simple lunch of soup, bread, a beverage and a dessert, along with a handmade bowl of their choice.
All $15 donations go directly to the event’s beneficiaries: Talawanda Oxford Pantry & Social Services (TOPSS), the BackPack Program, Miami Cares Food Pantry, Open Hands Food Pantry and Talawanda School District Little Free Pantry.
The program relies on volunteers and corporate sponsorship to ensure there are no overhead costs.
The Oxford Empty Bowls website states that guests take their bowls home with them as a reminder of “the fun they had but more importantly as a reminder that there are always empty bowls in the world.”
Charlene York, former Oxford resident now living in Newark, Ohio, drove two hours on Saturday to attend and volunteer at Empty Bowls.
“When I saw it was the 20th anniversary, I said to my husband, ‘we’re going,’” York said. “Our tradition is we come here when they open and then we close the place down.”
York said she attends the event each year because she enjoys interacting with her community while supporting an important cause.
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Rob Abowitz, associate director of Residence Life at Miami University and member of the organizing committee for Empty Bowls, said he made about 150 bowls for the event this year.
“There’s a combination of handmade bowls like mine, and there’s some hand-painted bowls,” Abowitz said. “You get to pick the one you’re taking home, and it’s a pretty intimate process.”
Abowitz said one of his favorite aspects of Empty Bowls is its integration of art into community service.
“The whole event occurs in the Oxford Community Arts Center, and there’s art that kids have made displayed there,” Abowitz said. “The placemats were made by Opening Minds through Art [OMA], which is a student organization that works with elderly people who have dementia.”
Abowitz, who has been volunteering for Oxford Empty Bowls since its third year, said the biggest change he’s seen is how much the event has grown.
“It used to be hundreds of bowls and now it’s close to 1,000,” Abowitz said. “We moved to the Art Center because we used to be in the community room of the Methodist church, and we outgrew it.”
Abowitz said much of that growth is due to Connie Malone, the lead organizer for Oxford Empty Bowls, finding ways to include so many different parts of the community.
Malone got involved with Empty Bowls in its second year at Oxford and began taking over organizational responsibilities a year later. She also works as a student services manager for Project Butterfly, based in Miami’s biology department.
Malone said she was able to grow the event by reaching out to an assortment of different organizations within Oxford.
Malone said she likes Empty Bowls’ grass-roots nature, and follows the organizations only two rules: 1) that all donations go directly to beneficiaries, and 2) events must be operated with inclusivity and integrity.
She described the event’s atmosphere as warm and celebratory, while still raising awareness about local food insecurity.
“If I had to choose one word, I would call [Empty Bowls] joy,” Malone said. “Oftentimes, I’ll describe it as a celebration of art and service because it has so much positive energy.”
Malone said her passion for hunger relief motivates her work at Empty Bowls.
“It’s a relentless need, an endless need, and it’s not a siloed social problem,” Malone said. “It lives in the context of a lot of other social issues. But this is the one piece where we can make a direct difference.”
Since 2002, Oxford’s chapter has raised $126,414. All donations go directly to the event’s beneficiaries, and there are no overhead costs. In 2021, the event raised $8792.25.
According to Malone, the 2022 final total is not complete yet as donations keep coming in, but the preliminary total is just over $12,300.