Megan Thobe, Staff Writer

Miami UNICEF members Linh Dinh (left) and Alex Kuhn (right) collect donations at Shriver to raise money for Trick-Or-Treat for UNICEF, a program that works to collect money for international food, water and vaccines for kids. (Kim Parent | The Miami Student)

In Ohio, 2,083,240 people are food insecure, according to an April study released by Feeding America, the United State’s largest hunger-relief organization. This means that more than 18 percent of the population is unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of their household.

The fight against hunger is prevalent even in the Oxford community.

The number of children in the Talawanda School District who receive some type of food aid has tripled over the past eight years and currently nearly one third of children in the district are receiving aid.

The Oxford Community Choice Pantry (OCCP) provides support for 950 people with the Talawanda School District making up about 67 percent of the customer base. Since the economic recession, the pantry takes on eight to 10 new customers each month. According to Mike Johnson, the director of OCCP, many of these new customers are using the pantry for the first time ever and are sometimes embarrassed or ashamed of their need for help.

Johnson said the Oxford pantry has an easier time meeting its customer’s needs than a lot of the other area pantries, and often contributes to other area pantries.

“The whole community has been very supportive of this pantry,” Johnson said. “Our customers form relationships with the student volunteers and everyone grows from the interactions.”

Wilson Pittman, a sophomore pre-med student, decided to do volunteer work with the Oxford pantry.

“I wanted to get involved with something that was more involved with the people I’m helping,” Pittman said. “Working with the pantry will give me a more hands on experience with local people in need and that’s something that you can’t find with every volunteer opportunity.”

The student community supports OCCP by volunteering and also by bringing in food and monetary donations from various food drives.

Each year Miami hosts Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. This year, the week of awareness will be Oct. 29 to Nov. 3. According to organizer Megan Donahue, the goal of this event is to involve Miami University students in the local fight against hunger.

“We want to make [these issues] a little more real for students and remind them that sure, the bubble of Miami is great, but there is an outside world of people who need our help,” Donahue said.

During this week, the Office of Community Engagement and Service will join forces with Housing and Dining Services to host Pledge-A-Meal. Pledge-A-Meal allows students with a meal plan to donate a meal to those in need.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week also occurs in conjunction with Empty Bowls, an Oxford community event held to raise proceeds for the Oxford Community Choice Pantry. Empty Bowls will take place 11 a.m. Nov. 10 in Oxford United Methodist Church. During this luncheon, attendees choose a handmade bowl to fill with a soup made by local cooks.

The Oxford Empty Bowls event is unique in that there is not a larger organization which is in charge of it. Connie Malone is the main organizer of the event and said she feels that one of the main strengths of the program is that it involves many community organizations.

“We have had a great reception from the community,” Malone said. “Many organizations have helped us in the past and many of the people who start volunteering, continue to do so because they have so much fun!”

Empty Bowls has partnered with Miami University’s art department for the past nine years. According to Dennis Tobin, the art department’s main contact with Empty Bowls, ceramics students donated roughly 600 handmade bowls to the event and are preparing to donate between 500 and 600 bowls this year.

Carl Hayden has made more than 200 bowls for the Empty Bowls program during his time as a ceramics student.

“I felt like we made a great contribution to the community and we had a chance to see some of our artwork in use,” Hayden said.

Rob Abowitz, the Associate Director of the Office of Residence Life, also donates his hand-thrown bowls to the event.

“I’m a leisure time potter, but my main draw to the event was that it involves so many people and organizations in the Oxford Community,” Abowitz said

This year the Empty Bowls organizations are encouraging more collaboration by partnering with the local pottery studio, You’re Fired as well as residence life organizations.

Collins Hall, the home of the “Celebrate The Arts” living learning community, hosted a painting program with bowls from You’re Fired. According to Collins Hall’s First Year Adviser Orterio Villa, the event was beneficial for those who participated as well as for the Empty Bowls event.

“We have 50 bowls total for the Empty Bowls event,” Villa said. “I’m happy and excited about the connections with our community. With our program we focused on the individual efforts of the students who painted a bowl.”

Malone said one of her favorite parts of the event is the feeling of celebration that the event conveys and the opportunity to display works from local and emerging artists.

Over the past nine years, the Empty Bowls event has raised over $36,000 for the hunger relief effort; $6,205 was raised in 2011 alone.