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Lunch raises money for food bank
Kim Grier-Jones, left, and Tracy Pato look over some of the handmade bowls at the Georgia Mountain Food Bank Empty Bowl Lunch at First Baptist Church Thursday. - photo by Tom Reed

In tough economic times, finding a plate of food is difficult for some families.

This year, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank helped to serve more people than ever before, and more Hall County residents are coming out to help. But there's still more work to do.

"It's so important because the 31 feeding organizations that we work with are having historic numbers of people who need assistance," said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the food bank. "That shouldn't be a surprise or secret to any of you."

Those attending the fourth annual Empty Bowl Lunch on Thursday at the First Baptist Church banquet hall lined up for soup, salad and a sandwich, and picked out handmade bowls created by area students and community members.

"Every year when I take a bowl home, I put it somewhere that can be a constant reminder that I don't have to go to a food bank for food," said C.J. Zellek, a south Hall County resident who attended for a third year. "It's sad that not everyone can say the same."

About 350 tickets were sold for $25 to Thursday's lunch - more than in the past three years. Proceeds from the Empty Bowl lunch will be used to help buy food distributed to the partner agencies within the five-county area that the food bank serves, Blackstock said.

"In the last year and a half, we've distributed 1.4 million pounds of food with help from the Atlanta food bank. About 70,000 pounds have come locally," she said.

"At this lunch, each person learns even more and can share. It's a simple concept that's hard to get your head around when you don't have to scramble for food."

The food bank is looking for a warehouse location on Hilton Drive in Gainesville so they can reduce pressure on Hollis Transport Agency in Flowery Branch, where the food bank currently stores and ships supplies.

"As much good as Hollis does, we're starting to get in their way," Rich White, chairman of the food bank's board, said with a laugh. "We've located a facility, and the owner will match us $500,000. We need to install a freezer in the space and plan to reach out to the community to help us get into this facility."

The food bank will start publicizing the move and asking for help by next month.

"This is necessary so we can feed the many hungry and food insufficient folks in the five-county area," said Gainesville City Council member George Wangemann, one of the food bank's board members. "There are significant numbers in this recession because many people have lost their jobs, not through their own fault. This can make it possible to feed many people. It's a passion of mine to help people who can't help themselves."

At some point in life, every person needs help, Wangemann said.

"We have a life to share it with others," said council member Myrtle Figueras. "If we don't share it, life has no meaning. Sharing includes what we're blessed with, and donating food is another piece of doing what the world needs."