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Georgia Mountain Food Bank fundraiser celebrates 10 years of filling empty bowls
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Hand-painted bowls are available for attendees to take home during the Empty Bowl Luncheon benefiting Georgia Mountain Food Bank at First Baptist Gainesville on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

The turnout and palpable excitement at the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowl Lunch at First Baptist Church in Gainesville on Tuesday, Sept. 25, was fitting for the fundraiser’s 10th anniversary.

The fundraiser is supported by dozens of table sponsors, plus individual ticket sales, a live auction of hand-painted rice bowls by local celebrities and other donations flowing in. 

The live auction included a bowl painted by University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, which was bid out for $1,700. 

Meanwhile, a bowl painted by Gainesville resident Abit Massey, who led the Georgia Poultry Federation for nearly 50 years, fetched a cool $1,000 at auction.

The Empty Bowl fundraiser is held every September to coincide with national Hunger Action Month.

Each attendee took home a hand-painted bowl donated by local artists and community members.

Wes Hunt, president and CEO of Homestar Financial, said in his opening remarks at Tuesday’s fundraiser: “We’re here today to support a great group that helps fill the gap for so many in our community.”

That mission was spotlighted in a brochure handed to the approximately 1,000 attendees on Tuesday.

“Through our network of 74 partner agencies, more than 50,000 volunteers and over 20,000 donors, we have been able to provide more than 33 million meals in our five-county service area of Hall, Forsyth, Lumpkin, Dawson and Union counties,” it read.

The Food Bank provided nearly 4.7 million meals in the 2018 fiscal year alone and grew its partner agency base to include more civic groups and pantries, for example. 

Hunger by the numbers

  • 10 years of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank
  • 33 million meals provided
  • 74 feeding partners, including civic groups, pantries and health clinics
  • 58,087 volunteers
  • 20,267 donors
  • 10.5 million meals collected through local corporate donors
  • 709,952 meals collected through community food drives
  • 918,695 mobile pantry meals provided

One in five Georgians are considered “food insecure,” according to the Georgia Food Bank Association, one of the highest totals of any state. 

Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Food Bank, said support for her team, like what was shown at the fundraiser, is what “drives us to get up in the morning and get going” to expand programs and reach more people in need.

Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann, who serves on the Food Bank’s board of directors, said serving those in need is one of his passions.

“We’re here to help feed the hungry, like they say, until no one is hungry,” Wangemann said. “It’s a great privilege to be able to do something like this because this addresses the necessities of life.”

State Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, said his father-in-law, Jim Mathis, helped begin the organization, and his wife, Katie, was a founding board member.

“I kind of feel like we’ve been there from the get-go,” he said. “But at the end of the day, one in five Georgians are hungry. We have a tremendous number of Hall County citizens that are living in poverty — children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Dubnik took a moment to look out over the growing crowd inside the banquet hall at First Baptist. 

“This is, I think, representative of our community and what we do when you turnout nearly 1,000 people to fight hunger,” he said. 

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