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Hundreds flock to food bank benefit
A bowl is turned upside down to see the artist's name at the Annual Georgia Mountain Food Bank Empty Bowl Lunch. Attendees can take home one from hundreds of hand-painted pottery bowls donated by members of the community and local artists.

How to help
The Georgia Mountain Food Bank serves Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin and
Union counties.
Contact: 770-534-4111

More than 48,000 meals will be provided to food-insecure Georgians, thanks to the hundreds Thursday who attended the Empty Bowl Lunch benefiting the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

The Empty Bowl Lunch is the food bank’s annual fundraiser designed to address hunger, health and quality of life. This year, the event was held at First Baptist Church Gainesville and included a soup and salad menu, prepared by Master Chef Derin Moore from Performance Food Group in Oakwood, and remarks from Georgia first lady Sandra Deal.

David Sargent, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank board chairman, opened the ceremony with information about why attendees’ donations are necessary in the community.

“One in five Georgians are food insecure and do not know where their next meal is coming from,” Sargent said. “I want to make you aware that there are over 47,000 people in our five-county service area, including Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin and Union counties, that are in danger of going hungry every day.”

Deal said the statistics regarding hunger in Georgia are “startling.”

“Twenty percent of our population may not have access or may not know where their food is going to come from that day,” said Deal, who is a Gainesville native and grew up attending First Baptist. “And that includes a lot of children, because they are dependent on the parents.”

Deal described a cycle of hunger in which parents cannot provide for their children because they do not have jobs or have substance abuse problems, and they pass down the hunger and habits to their children.

“The addiction affects their desire to eat, and therefore they don’t think to feed their children,” she said. “That’s a sad, sad situation.”

The event also included a live auction, silent auction and award ceremony, recognizing some of those who have served the food bank in the last year.

The inaugural Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart Award, honoring the late board member and philanthropist, was presented to Jim Mathis, president of the North Georgia Community Foundation.

“Mike was such a godly man who loved his wife, his family, his friends and all of us,” said Kay Blackstock, Georgia Mountain Food Bank executive director. “... The award this year goes to a man who lives that kind of life.”

The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce was recognized as the volunteer group of the year, and Sue Harmon, food bank volunteer team leader, was recognized as the individual volunteer of the year.

Blackstock said the live auction and donations Thursday were enough to pay for more than 48,000 meals.

“We are here because of the need,” Blackstock said. “As big as this room is, and as big as this community event has grown, so has the need. It’s not backing down.”

Blackstock said 30,000 people are affected every month through the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, and they depend on volunteers and donations from the community to serve those numbers.

“It is shameful to think that one in four children, or about 28 percent of our babies, have to worry about eating,” she said. “It is shameful that one in 10 seniors have to make a decision about a roof over their head, getting their medicine or food. ...  I’m just here to explain to you that all of this money raised during this event goes to these programs. I mean it when I say we need your help and we couldn’t do it without you.”