Hundreds of handcrafted and hand-painted ceramic bowls filled a section of the Hazel and JW Ruby Community Center at Mylan Park on Saturday, February 25th, 2017 for Empty Bowls Monongalia’s 11th annual Soup and Bread Luncheon. And so, too, did hundreds of tables decorated and set for even more hungry guests. They lined up for over 400 gallons of soup donated by more than 50 local restaurants, and there were plenty of varieties to choose from: Gibbie’s Pub and Eatery’s chicken enchilada, Table 9’s white chicken chili, Mother India’s lentil, Two Fat Cousins’ Maryland crab, and over 70 others.

Empty Bowl’s motto is simple: “We stand in soup lines so you don’t have to.” In exchange for a cash donation to fight hunger, guests at the Soup and Bread Luncheon are served unlimited soup and get to take home a handmade ceramic bowl.


Photo courtesy of Tatum Storey

Follow an Empty Bowl’s path to your table.

Local businesses like ZenClay, the WOW! Factory, and the Diamond Shop, as well as the West Virginia University ceramics department, Lock House Studio, and individual artisans form, throw, fire, and glaze ceramic bowls for the event. Think your bowl’s design is something special? It is! Community members can paint and donate bowls at both the WOW! Factory and 123 Pleasant Street.


Bowls donated by Zenclay. Photo courtesy of @roseannekahlo

But why bother with a bowl? The answer: it’s pottery with a purpose. “You can’t reach up into the cabinet and grab one of them without being made mindful of the story that’s behind it,” says Rev. Dr. Dan Kimble, an affiliate of Empty Bowls.  It makes participants “stop and think about people across their community who might not have that simple luxury.” Someone’s bowl is always empty. If donors were willing to help alleviate hunger once, an Empty Bowl might make them choose to do so again.


Food insecurity = limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods

15.6% of the population or 15,380 adults in Monongalia County suffer from food insecurity.

16.4% or 2,570 children in Monongalia County are food insecure.


Empty Bowls was first started in 1990 as a grassroots project and has since spread to numerous communities. While Empty Bowls Monongalia’s largest event is the Soup and Bread Luncheon, the non-profit stays committed to raising as much money as possible throughout the year in order to raise awareness about and to alleviate hunger in Monongalia County. It is the only organization in the county that’s entire efforts are dedicated to addressing the issues of food insecurity.

In addition to ticket sales for the soup luncheon, Empty Bowls Monongalia raises funds through individual contributions from members of the community, churches, civic organizations, businesses, and foundations. All proceeds go to fund food pantries, meal programs, and weekend backpack programs. “The backpack feeding program participants are usually children that may only be getting breakfast and lunch at school and go home on Friday and don’t have any food until Monday. The program is there to make sure that no kid goes hungry over the weekend,” says Shaye Pettito, Executive Director of Scott’s Run Settlement House.

Without Empty Bowls, the backpack program wouldn’t be able to exist. And neither would some other meal programs or local food pantries. Empty Bowls Monongalia provides annual grants to local hunger relief projects and agencies that provide hunger relief in the Monongalia County area or raise public awareness of food security and related issues. Since the first Soup and Bread luncheon, Empty Bowls Monongalia has distributed $463,015 to agencies supporting individuals and families threatened by food insecurity. Empty Bowls Monongalia currently supports 22 different programs in Monongalia County to combat hunger.


11 local food pantries, making 34,176 distributions, received Empty Bowls grants

7 local meal programs, serving 137,592 meals, received Empty Bowls grants

3 weekend backpack programs providing 39,040 backpacks, received Empty Bowls grants


The majority of us are fortunate enough to not know true hunger, but it is everywhere, in cities, rural areas, and in-between, in those with nice homes who have trouble paying their mortgages and in those with no home at all, in those who have made the best possible choices for themselves and in those who have made bad choices, in someone you know or love and in someone you don’t know at all, in those who used to have a great paying job but got laid off and in those who have never had a job at all. And there are plenty of people working full-time who suffer from food insecurity. Too many families must make a choice between paying the rent or buying groceries. Stretch and pull as they might, there simply is not enough to make ends meet.


“When people don’t have enough food to get through the day, it costs all of us. Food insecurity creates health problems. Children may struggle to learn. Workers may be less productive.” – from


You never know what will happen in life. One unexpected expense—the car breaking down, the furnace shutting off, an accident, an illness—can suddenly change everything. It could be you someday. “If we don’t help our neighbors, who’s going to do it? It may be we who need it the next time,” says Suzanne Riffon Kenney, Executive Director of St. Ursula’s Food Pantry.

Some final words from Rev. Dr. Dan Kimble: “When one attempts to only take care of themselves, it eventually results, in fact, that none of us are really taken care of. We really can’t make this happen on our own. For one day, Empty Bowls causes us to lay aside some of those boundaries that separate us and reminds us that we are, as a community, best when we come together.”


Photo courtesy of Mustafa Rfast

Save the date for Empty Bowls Monongalia’s 12th Annual Soup and Bread Luncheon, February 28, 2018, or donate now.


Leave a Reply