About Us

History of Empty Bowls

The grassroots program Empty Bowls began in 1990 by high school teacher John Hartom, his wife, Lisa and the students of Bloomfield Hills, MI as a way to support a food drive. The group decided to make bowls and use them for serving soup as a fundraiser. Each guest kept the empty bowl as a reminder of worldwide hunger. One year later, Empty Bowls developed into a project to support food banks, soup kitchens and other organizations fighting hunger. Imagine/RENDER group was formed as a nonprofit organization to promote Empty Bowls and over the next twenty plus years, Empty Bowls events were held across the United States and other parts of the world.

The basic premise of an Empty Bowls event is simple: guests are served soup in a handmade ceramic bowl in exchange for a cash donation to fight hunger. They are asked to keep their bowl as a reminder of the meal’s purpose. Every time they take the bowl from the cupboard, they will be reminded that someone’s bowl is always empty and on that one occasion they helped alleviate hunger and could choose to do so again at any time.

The initial Empty Bowls soup and bread luncheon in Morgantown, WV was held in February 2007 at the First Presbyterian Church as a way to raise money for one of the church activities. After seeing its success, the organization knew they would need to engage the community to help expand and share the fundraising efforts. In 2008 Empty Bowls Monongalia was born. For the next few years the luncheon was held at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. Currently it is held at the Hazel & J.W. Ruby Community Center at Mylan Park.

Empty Bowls Monongalia exists to:

  • Raise money to feed the hungry people in our county;
  • Increase public awareness of hunger, food insecurity, and related issues;
  • Advocate for Arts Education; and
  • Provide a powerful service-learning project for students of all ages.

We are the only agency in Monongalia County exclusively dedicated to raising money and awareness of food insecurity.

Empty Bowls Monongalia was the recipient of the 2014 Governor’s Service Award. This award is presented to West Virginians and state volunteer organizations who exemplify the spirit of community service and volunteerism. Empty Bowls was chosen because it has gone above and beyond for fellow West Virginians. Empty Bowls was recognized by the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce as the 2016 Non-Profit of the Year at the Chamber’s Annual Dinner in January 2016, as a result of its incredible impact on addressing our region’s least fortunate in a way that makes all of us a better community!

Since the first Empty Bowls luncheon, the event has grown into a community wide event. Local faith-based organizations, businesses, restaurants, schools, foundations, local artisans, and many volunteers all contribute to the success of Empty Bowls Monongalia.

Empty Bowls Monongalia is an all-volunteer agency with no paid employees. Most food and supplies are donated. Overhead is approximately 10% of revenue.

Since the first luncheon, Empty Bowls Monongalia has distributed $463,015 to local meal programs, food pantries, and weekend backpack food programs serving our friends and neighbors in Monongalia County who may not know where their next meal will come from.