For some members of the Oxford-Lafayette community, the ability to purchase food is not their most pressing issue. For others, it’s at the forefront of their minds.
This year marks the 17th Empty Bowls event, where members of the community gathered on Thursday to help the Oxford-Lafayette Pantry provide for those who are struggling with food insecurity.
To take part in the fundraiser, participants made a $20 donation in exchange for unlimited soup, a bottle of water and a handcrafted bowl made by local potters.
Empty Bowls helps raise money to provide 40,000 meals annually to community members with food shortages or diet insufficiencies through the Pantry.
Dorothy Laurenzo, a committee member of the Empty Bowls fundraiser, has been with the event since the very beginning.
“We need (Empty Bowls),” Laurenzo said. “We need it and more. And we’re lucky to have such a good food pantry that is so well run and organized, and it serves people every week.”
Laurenzo said that she believes this fundraiser is a way for the community to come together.
“The thing that’s in the back of (participants’) minds, is that no matter who they are, the reason they’re there is to help those who don’t have enough food,” Laurenzo said. “I think that brings the community together.”
The Pantry currently provides food to around 500 families throughout Lafayette County every month.
The process of providing the food is often donation based, and the greatest portion of the Pantry’s support comes from the Mid-South Food Bank and the Mississippi Food Network.
John Kohne, one of the coordinating directors for the Pantry, said there is always a need for fundraising. Some items, like flour and milk, are not able to be donated through networks. Events like Empty Bowls help the pantry to overcome this obstacle.
“Many people around the city (and) the town come out and support the Pantry by partaking and having their lunch,” Kohne said.
Ann O’Dell, the chairman of the board of directors for the pantry, said the Pantry determines their clients according to USDA guidelines about food insecurity. Still, she reported that less than 15% of those who fall below the poverty line in the community utilize the Pantry.
“So, the great majority of folks really have very limited income in this county are making do somehow,” O’Dell said.
She explained that those in need of groceries who utilize the Pantry are often temporary visitors.
“Many of our people are elderly — on very limited income,” O’Dell said. “We have a number of people who are disabled, either mentally or physically. Other people (are) … caring for a number of grandchildren because the parents are addicted to some substance or are just not able to take care of the children.”
O’Dell said she attributes the poverty in Lafayette County to lower wages, which produce the food insecurity that creates a need for the Pantry.
“I think the minimum wage is awfully low,” O’Dell said. “It’s mighty hard for people, even with two members of the family working, to provide for a family on two minimum wage jobs.”