Since its inception in 2003, charity luncheon Empty Bowls has raised an annual average of $15,000 for local food bank The Pantry, which operates solely from donations and volunteer work.
In hopes of expanding this year’s audience to further benefit The Pantry, event organizers Ron Dale and June Rosentreter asked second-year integrated marketing communications graduate student Julie LaBerge to join the Empty Bowls team in October 2017.
“One point they made to me was that they really wanted to have a diverse community involvement,” LaBerge said. “Before, it just seemed to be older folks who came to participate when, really, we have a diverse population in this town and they just wanted to see more ethnically diverse, student wise diversity.”
Empty Bowls will be get underway at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Oxford Conference Center and last through 3 p.m. or until all the food is gone. For $20 admission, attendees are offered a unique bowl handcrafted by either Mud Daubers or local potters, a soup of their choice provided by dozens of Oxford vendors, as well as bread and a bottle of water. As a reminder that someone’s bowl is always empty, attendants keep their bowls after the luncheon.
In order to increase the attendance at Empty Bowls and, consequently, to increase funds to The Pantry, LaBerge created and manages the Empty Bowls Facebook page to get students involved. Her outreach role is only one of many to making Empty Bowls possible.
“Everybody’s role really matters,” LaBerge said. “The person that brings the bread is just as important as the person that cleans the bowls is just as important as the restaurants that donate and the potters that are generous enough to donate part of their life’s work, something they usually make money off of. Just giving it, and it’s all because we recognize this need. There’s a bowl always empty.”
Described by LaBerge as “a collaborative community effort using available resources to combat a persisting need,” the charity event directly benefits The Pantry every year.
“It’s our only real actual fundraiser, so to speak, and our biggest,” said Coney Parham, the director for screening at The Pantry.
According to Ellen Nash, who manages The Pantry each January for Oxford United Methodist Church, the event’s proceeds buy food, like oil, cornmeal, flour, canned goods, fresh milk, peanut butter and cereal.
The Pantry is open Wednesday and Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. for Lafayette County residents. Wednesday is reserved for residents 65 and under, while anyone older than 65 can come Thursday.
“We see sometimes up to 80 to 90 people in those three hours,” Nash said. “Sometimes they’re shopping for just one person, or it could be a family of six that we’re helping, too, so that just shows you how many people we take care of.”
The Pantry also delivers to almost 70 homebound clients who are unable to pick up their food.
According to George Rosentreter, June’s husband and Empty Bowls treasurer in its early years, the charity event averages around $15,000, and one year pulled in $17,000. The annual fundraiser helps when the pantry food stock gets low throughout the year. Because of population fluctuations in the summer and smaller donation numbers, Nash said the summer is when The Pantry needs food the most.
“We just have to have it (the fundraiser) for the money. I mean, we have wonderful donations, but we are always needing more,” Nash said. “We always have more and more people each year that are needing assistance.”
June Rosentreter has documented every event since the first luncheon in 2003, and said many people return year after year.
“You know, the same people come every year, and then we pick up new ones,” she said. “We hope now that we’re at the conference center, the space is much larger for us to serve the bowls and the parking is much better. We’re looking forward to another good turnout.”
Though Rosentreter was a trailblazer in bringing Empty Bowls to Oxford 15 years ago, this will be her last year chairing the event. She said she appreciates the overwhelming community support and willingness to help.
“You can imagine getting $15,000 one day to add to your pocketbook to buy more food,” Rosentreter said. “You know, it’s good because that’s all we do with that money is buy food for The Pantry. It doesn’t go to anyone else.”