Vacation discovery weaves its way into a passion

Carolyn Coley, wife of State Senator Bill Coley, with bowls made for the Empty Bowls movement.

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Carolyn Coley, wife of State Senator Bill Coley, with bowls made for the Empty Bowls movement.


October 24 – Monroe

WHERE: First Church of God Monroe

WHEN: 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm


BENEFITING: The Need Network

November 7 – Fairfield

WHERE: Fairfield Church of Christ

WHEN: 11:00 am - 2:00 pm


BENEFITING: Fairfield Food Pantry

November 21 – West Chester/Liberty Township

WHERE: Liberty Center – Sabin Center

WHEN: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm


BENEFITING: Reach Out Lakota, Faith Alliance Summer Lunch Program

November 21 – Hamilton

WHERE: Ridgeway Elementary School

WHEN: 11:00 am - 1:00 pm

TICKET PRICE:  $10 at the door

BENEFITING: Open Door Pantry

When Carolyn Coley, wife of State Senator Bill Coley, visited Jekyll Island, Georgia, on vacation, she didn’t know then it would spur her life’s passion.  “I visited a shop on Jekyll to learn more about weaving, which is a hobby of mine” says Carolyn. “While there, I noticed these beautiful handmade bowls and some information about an upcoming event called ‘Empty Bowls’.  As the shop owner explained the mission, I was overwhelmed by how simple yet effective this could be.”

“I came home and found out that Oxford has been doing Empty Bowls for 12 years,” said Coley. “But Butler County needed to do Empty Bowls everywhere.”  And from there, a passion was born.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding in Michigan, each Empty Bowls' event is based on the same concept.  Handcrafted bowls are donated by many different sources:  this year, Transitional Living, St. Joseph Orphanage, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Butler County, local schools and colleges, and independent artists are all making bowls, just to name a few. Through generous donations from Meijer and Walmart, Coley was also able to purchase a kiln for Empty Bowls so bowl making "parties" can be held as additional activities supporting the Empty Bowls mission.

That is where Butler County United Way comes in.  With a focus on improving the community through education, income stability and health, they make quite an impact on their own.  However, through collective efforts, the community impact can be incredible.

“We will act as the fiscal agent for Empty Bowls in Butler County,” stated Mag Baker, President and CEO of Butler County United Way.  “What this means is that all financial dealings will be handled through us to ensure complete transparency of all donated funds and how they are applied.  Empty Bowls aligns perfectly with our mission to connect and mobilize resources to improve lives within Butler County.”

Food for the events are either donated by local restaurants or homemade by Empty Bowl volunteers, such as at the Oxford event. Butler County schools support the event as well, using their artistic skills to decorate small handled bags to take bowls home in and making placemats for the table settings.  And Butler County United Way volunteers will be among those there to help serve food.

People purchase a ticket to an Empty Bowls event and for the price of entrance, they choose a handcrafted bowl, eat a delicious soup and are able to socialize with like-minded, generous people. The money from ticket sales and silent auction items is then donated to local organizations that feed the hungry in Butler County.

“What I love about Empty Bowls is that everything is donated so when money is collected at the event, all of that money goes to the community to feed hungry residents,” says Coley.  “These events weave together the arts, the act of collaboration and, of course, food, which ultimately benefits our county by helping people get back on their feet.”

Butler County United Way partner agencies, such as the Fairfield Food Pantry, will benefit from the Empty Bowl events scheduled to happen throughout October and November.  “Working together, we can make great things happen for everyone in Butler County,” continues Baker.  “It is amazing how being part of a grassroots effort like this, either by handcrafting a bowl, donating your time to volunteer, or purchasing a ticket to the event, can create a lasting effect on our community.

The Empty Bowls movement in Butler County has certainly taken hold. This year events will be held in Monroe, Fairfield and West Chester/Liberty Township. In 2016, Empty Bowls will further expand to Middletown and Trenton and a second event in Hamilton.

Want to get involved?

Find out more about Empty Bowls and Butler County United Way.