Pantry names local artist Ron Dale Volunteer of the Year

Published 3:11 pm Friday, November 26, 2021

Editor’s note: A correction was made regarding June Rosentreter. The correction was made November 26, 2021.

The Oxford Pantry is honoring local potter and Professor Emeritus of Arts Ron Dale as Volunteer of the Year 2021 for his service with the non-profit organization, namely his work with The Empty Bowls fundraiser.

“I’m really surprised,” said Dale. “Pleased, of course, but surprised.”

“He has been an enormous benefactor to The Pantry,” said Ann O’Dell, chairman of The Pantry’s Board of Directors. “He’s been a benefactor unlike any other we have had and we are proud to honor him as our Volunteer of the Year.”

The Empty Bowls Project is a grassroots project started by a Michigan teacher in 1992 who wanted to raise funds for a food drive. For $20, guests dined on dishes providing soups such as chicken florentine, shrimp etouffee and more donated from local restaurants, bread and water. Guests got to keep their bowls as a souvenir and a reminder of the constant hunger many people face.

It has seen much success over the years with all proceeds benefiting The Pantry and allowing the organization to provide for those facing food scarcity in Lafayette County and Oxford.

The last Empty Bowls fundraiser was held in 2019 where $24,700 and O’Dell said Dale’s involvement was a key factor in the project’s continued success.

What was once a simple donation to The Pantry grew into an annual collaboration that has spawned hundreds of bowls.

Dale was approached by a woman from Tupelo who wanted him to donate pots and bowls to their Empty Bowls event and he made and donated bowls for two years before he approached The Oxford Pantry about beginning the event in town.

I thought ‘What we really need to do is to have our own here,’” said Dale.

June Rosentreter, a former organizer for The Pantry, was taking one of Dale’s classes at the time and he enlisted her help in beginning The Empty Bowls Project in Oxford.

“I approached her about it because I knew she worked with The Pantry and asked her what she thought about us joining forces and all the proceeds going to them,” said Dale. “Of course she was all for it.”

Dale said the project was so successful from the beginning that they would run out of bowls almost immediately.

“It was held at the Methodist Church,” he said. “It was supposed to start at about 11 [a.m.] and by 11:45 we were completely sold out. We had made about a couple hundred [bowls].”

The project officially began in 2005 and for the first six years, Dale donated 100 bowls each year before upping it to 200 with the help of his students. 

He said he made participation in the Empty Bowls fundraiser a part of the curriculum as an introduction to community service and his students loved it. Although he is currently retired and working full time as an artist, his successor Professor of Ceramics Matt Long continues the project at the university in his stead.

According to O’Dell, Dale has donated over 2,200 bowls using his own equipment. Of those bowls, Dale said he made about 1,000 of them himself.

“We let it grow a little bit,” he said. “We provided more pots and more restaurants and it sort of snowballed until we had these big events for a couple thousand people.”

The Pantry honors each Volunteer of the Year with a plaque. Dale’s name will be added to the roster of past recipients in The Pantry’s facility.

Dale said he is expecting The Empty Bowls fundraiser to start back up in the new year and looks forward to the community support in the fight against hunger.