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Food bank holds its largest Empty Bowl fundraiser
Visitors to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowl Lunch at the First Baptist Church banquet hall Thursday in Gainesville pick through a selection of hand-painted bowls, made by local artists and other members of the community, to take home.

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s sixth annual Empty Bowl Lunch fundraiser drew its largest gathering yet on Thursday.

Attendees left the event at the First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville with a full stomach and small, ceramic bowls, hand-painted by students and volunteers.

The event has come a long way in six years, but stays true to its origins.

“We served grits in ceramic bowls ... and that was really the start of us doing an empty bowl,” Executive Director Kay Blackstock said. “It has really grown.”

A signature menu was served by “celebrity ladlers.”

Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, a former Atlanta Brave, and 1973 Masters golf tournament champion Tommy Aaron, as well as heads of local agencies such as Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch and Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly, donning green aprons over suits, ties and uniforms, served diners a choice of chicken tortilla soup, beef vegetable soup or black-eyed pea and spinach soup.

State Sen. Butch Miller didn’t wield a ladle, but did serve some inspiration through his remarks, saying Gainesville’s populace has a “sense of community that a lot of people don’t have.”

“This is about serving our fellow man; this is about quality of life in our community; this is about making Gainesville and Hall County and Northeast Georgia the unique place to live that it is,” he said. “I could never give back to the community as much as this community gives to each other and gives to me.”

Blackstock said the event brings together such a widespread part of the community — from the public, private and nonprofit sectors — because hunger is universal.

“Food is something that everybody can relate to. We all need food to grow and thrive and survive, and everyone recognizes that that’s a basic need in life, and that in the United States of America people should not be going hungry. There’s plenty of food — it’s about finding the food and having the capacity to get it and handle it safely and get it redistributed,” she said. “Everybody gets that. Everybody can play a part.”

Attendees played their part for the day by purchasing the $25 tickets, which can provide up to 125 meals, Blackstock said.

They had other options to give through the silent auction, and live auction, led by Philip A. Wilheit Sr.

Blackstock especially thanked the volunteers who go above and beyond by putting in the time that makes operating the food bank possible.

At the conclusion of the luncheon, the bank’s board chairman, Phillip Sartain, challenged the community to follow the example of those recognized for their contributions.

“The rest of us must all make sure that the bowl stays full,” Sartain said.

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