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Empty Bowl ‘power lunch’ raises money for Georgia Mountain Food Bank
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Volunteer Kim Reichling, left, serves a bowl of soup to Ashton Blackwood Tuesday morning at the First Baptist Church banquet hall during the annual Empty Bowl Lunch benefiting Georgia Mountain Food Bank. - photo by Scott Rogers

Some 800 people packed Tuesday’s Empty Bowl Lunch at First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville.

But here’s a much bigger number: 685,000, the number of meals that will be provided through money raised at the lunch. The $10,850 raised by just the event’s live auction should provide 54,250 of those meals.

“That’s what I like to call a power lunch,” said Brett Fowler, chairman of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s board of directors.

The event raised much more money, with $30 ticket per person for the soup-and-salad luncheon, corporate sponsorships and a silent auction featuring paintings and other items.

Money raised at the Empty Bowl Lunch supports the food bank throughout the year.

By the numbers

Here’s a look at some fiscal year 2017 statistics from the Georgia Mountain Food Bank:

Amount distributed: 2.2 million pounds of food, equal to 4.3 million meals

People served: 29,000 through mobile food pantries

Service: Some 4,880 volunteers donated 12,275 hours of work (equal to 5 ½ full-time employees)

Source: Georgia Mountain Food Bank

Guests took home a hand-painted bowl as a thank you and “to remind them of the empty bowls still left to fill in our five-county service area,” the food bank said of the event on its website.

The entity at 1642 Calvary Industrial Drive SW, off Calvary Church Road, serves residents in Hall, Forsyth, Lumpkin, Dawson and Union counties.

One the event’s highlights was the live auction, conducted by Doug Carter, president and broker of Don Carter Realty Co.

“At the end of the day, not only are you getting a beautiful piece of artwork, but the dollars are going to the wonderful work that (the food bank) is doing,” he said.

The live item auctions were all bowls painted or signed by celebrities or well-known organizations.

Donnie Johnston of South Hall had planned to spend up to $2,000 for an Atlanta Falcons bowl but only had to shell out $700.

“It was a steal for me,” he said.

Wearing a black Falcons shirt, Johnston shared a team table with his mother, Brenda Johnston, who has worked with the NFL franchise since 1978.

The bowl had a special teams unit theme to it — and that’s why it was special to Donnie Johnston.

“It’s an overlooked aspect, kind of like hunger issues and food problems are in our community,” he said. “People don’t realize the need in Hall County. We live in such a rich community … how can anyone be hungry? But they are hungry and you can’t turn a blind eye to it.”

Awards also were handed out at the event.

Retired lawyer Phillip Sartain received the Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart Award.

Speaking on her father’s behalf, Callie Sartain recalled the Saturday morning food distributions he attended and otherwise generous efforts he has undertaken.

“My dad represented clients who were unable to afford many of life’s basic necessities, but he didn’t just represent them,” she said. “He went above and beyond the duties of a lawyer to recognize within each person a sense of inherent dignity and self-worth.

“This is how he has approached his work at the food bank as well.”

Other awards presented were to the corporate volunteer of the year Poly Enterprises and volunteer of the year Brady Taylor.

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Katie Bruner goes through the serving line at First Baptist Church Tuesday morning for the annual Empty Bowl Lunch benefiting Georgia Mountain Food Bank. - photo by Scott Rogers
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