Long-Running Empty Bowls Luncheon Supports Hunger Projects, Service Learning


The Oxford Community Arts Center expects to sell up to 1,300 bowls on Saturday. Photo contributed by Oxford Empty Bowls

By Ryan Jones and Lindsey Adams

Oxford Empty Bowls returns Saturday for its 16th annual soup luncheon, with plans to share proceeds with three new groups this year.

Since its start in 2002, the Empty Bowls event has raised $88,000 for the Oxford Choice Pantry. This year, organizers will add three new minor beneficiaries.Miami Cares Pantry, St. Mary’s Backpack and Open Hands Food Pantry will each receive a $500 gift.

“All Empty Bowls projects are operated on the grassroots or local level,” said Connie Malone, one of the primary organizers and graduate student services manager in the Miami University Department of Biology. “So, they all have unique characteristics, qualities that are sort of location-dependent and organizers can organize them in any way they want.”

Oxford Empty Bowls was inspired by a similar event started by a Michigan art teacher named John Hartom in 1990. Hartom developed the idea as a way to engage his art students in a fun service project. He had them create ceramic bowls and then set up a local soup luncheon. Today, empty bowl events are held across the United States and in 20 different countries.

At Oxford Empty Bowls, guests pay $10 for a bowl and meal. The goal is to keep the cost affordable so that everyone can attend.

“We don’t want the event to be cost prohibitive,” Malone said.

Kids eat for free, but everyone else pays—including sponsors and organizers.

The bowls come from all over Oxford, according to Rob Abowitz, a potter who works as associate director of residence life at Miami and serves as a member of the committee for Empty Bowls. Local potters, Miami students, high school students and customers of Oxford’s You’re Fired pottery shop contribute bowls, whether handmade or hand-painted. Organizers expect to sell 1,000 to 1,300 bowls on Saturday.

The soup is made by volunteers in the Oxford community, according to event co-founder Alice Laatsch.

There are usually “40 different soup recipes, with each making about 10 to 12 bowls of soup,” Laatsch said.

Oxford resident John Blocker, who turns 100 years old this January, provided the bread to go with the soups through last year. Students usually volunteer to make desserts, Laatsch said.

Last year, the event raised just less than $12,000 but Malone said her committee does not set an annual financial target. Instead the organization has four goals.

“Our goals are really like the mission—which is to raise money toward hunger relief, toward the alleviation of food insecurity in the Oxford community.”

The event also aims to raise awareness of hunger and food insecurity; to encourage service learning; and to build community, Malone said.

Oxford Empty Bowls runs 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Oxford Community Arts Center, 10 S. College Ave., with more information on the Arts Center’s site.