In 2006, Mavis Grant-Lilley heard about an Empty Bowls luncheon being sponsored in Huntington, WV. She was intrigued by the idea and thought “We could do that in Morgantown at First Presbyterian Church to raise funds for the Community Pancake Breakfast!” She recruited Jamie Lester, local artisan, and Karin Patterson, Mission Committee member, to help her. Together they developed plans for a Soup and Bread Luncheon, making decisions and revisions as they went along. They thought if they sold 200 tickets they would do very well. In actuality, they sold 260 tickets for the event held in February 2007. Bowls were donated by local potters and the WVU Ceramics Department, soup and cookies were provided by ladies of the church, bread by a local bakery, and music by a WVU Jazz group. A silent auction rounded out the experience. The Luncheon was a wonderful event and raised $4750 for the Community Breakfast.
The event was so successful the planners recommended to the Church that Empty Bowls be expanded into a community wide effort so more people could participate and more people would benefit from the proceeds. First Presbyterian Church gave the team its blessing to expand.
During the summer of 2007, community members met several times to develop Operating Procedures for a community organization. Empty Bowls Monongalia was established with a community board consisting of Scott Burnworth, Mavis Grant-Lilley, Chr., Laura Jones, Jamie Lester, George Lilley, Karin Patterson, and Margot Racin. A relationship was created with The Greater Morgantown Community Trust (now known as Your Community Foundation) so funds could be passed through and non-profit status was made available.
Planning for the first Empty Bowls Monongalia Luncheon commenced immediately and a goal of 500 tickets /$10,000 was set. Five hundred bowls were needed, so once again the WVU Ceramics Department was tapped. Additionally, the Art teacher at Trinity Christian School, Debbie Palmer, took this on as a project and incorporated the decorating of bowls provided by potters and board member Scott Burnworth, into her art classes for kindergarten through senior high students. Five hundred sixty (560) bowls were available for this first luncheon held February 23, 2008 at the Peace Hall, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Star City. This year, soups and breads were solicited from local restaurants and cookies from several churches. Volunteers provided all the help needed to serve 595 patrons. The goal was met - $10,000 was granted to local food pantries and feeding programs.
Buoyed by the success of the 2008 Luncheon, the Board commenced planning for 2009 with a goal of 800 bowls set. A website was developed; a Throw-A-Thon involving students, faculty, and local potters was held at WVU to help create bowls; Trinity School provided more bowls, and Spring Valley School provided bowls; and education regarding hunger was provided to Scout troops. Alternative sites were discussed, but everyone liked the atmosphere at the Peace Hall so it was decided to have two seatings for the event in order to accommodate everyone better. Once again, the Luncheon, held February 21st, 2009, exceeded expectations. Nine hundred twenty-eight (928) tickets were sold, 1000+ bowls were available, 26 restaurants provided soups and breads, over 100 volunteers helped. A silent auction raised $1400, and several musicians performed. The event began taking on a life of its own in the community.
Believing the Empty Bowls Monongalia Luncheon could be a successful annual event, the Board decided it needed to become more organized for longevity. Committee responsibilities were put in writing, event guidelines were refined and retained, and the Board expanded its numbers. For the 2010 Luncheon, a goal of $15,000 was set. More community involvement and increased ticket sales, which offset the lack of a silent auction, yielded $16,500 to be used for grants. Educational programs to third grade classes and involvement of school children as ‘potters’ increased.
The annual Soup and Bread Luncheon has continued in much the same way and as of 2021, is in its sixteenth year. As a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, the event was suspended for 2022 in order to protect our community members and volunteers, however it plans to continue in 2023 as normal.