It’s a good thing Phil Dennis was on hand for a meeting of the Hall-Gainesville Retired Educators Association at the Gainesville Civic Center on Monday, Sept. 10.
“I know I’m not talking to all retired art teachers out there,” said Dennis, the community engagement coordinator for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.
As the food bank prepares for its 10th annual Empty Bowl Lunch on Sept. 25, Dennis gave painting tips to the retired educators and assured them their help painting small rice bowls would go a long way to feeding children and families in poverty.
“I hear all the time, ‘I can’t even draw a straight line,’” Dennis told the retired educators. “Well, you’re in luck, because God didn’t make branches straight …”
That was just one painting trick Dennis offered to the several dozen retired educators in attendance.
“You can do so much with dots,” he added, such as making them look like teardrops, fruit or flowers by dipping the opposite end of the brush in paint and then dabbing color on the bowl.
Patterns and random placement work well, too, Dennis said.
The lunch, held every September to coincide with national Hunger Action Month, is designed to raise funds and awareness of the need to fill empty bowls.
Attendees can take home hand-painted bowls donated by local artists and community members, and there is also a live auction for bowls painted by local celebrities.
“We need lots of bowls every year,” Dennis said, adding that last year’s fundraiser helped provide about 500,000 meals for those who otherwise may not have consistent access to food.
Whatever the retired educators may have lacked in artistic talent, they made up for in commitment.
“Over the years, we have retired from helping children,” said Angela Middleton, president of the local association. “We have an opportunity to help out the food bank in our own special way.”
Middleton said the association is made up of teachers, support staff and cafeteria workers, for example, all of whom dedicated lives and careers to support the development of children in their community.
“When I took on the presidency, I started looking for opportunities in which we can give back,” Middleton said. “My motto for this year is, ‘We have one more thing to give.’”
Vanessa Ellison, who taught for 31 years, including in the Gainesville City Schools System, said a healthy kid is an educated kid, and supporting the food bank is like supporting today’s educators.
“It’s a wonderful way to close gaps, to build rapport with families,” Ellison added.
Frank Lock, who taught chemistry, physics and astronomy for about three decades, said he understands the importance of a healthy diet for the brain development of students.
“It’s a very important thing — just good nutrition,” Lock said, adding that he particularly appreciates the food bank’s “prescriptive food boxes,” which are provided to patients at The Longstreet Clinic, Good News Clinics and Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic.
“It’s much easier to fix a child than take care of a broken man,” Lock said.
For Kay Blackstock, executive director of the food bank, having the retired educators pitch in is an “important gift” to the community.
“There is no wrong way to paint a little rice bowl,” she added. “And for every bowl that is painted here today and donated to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, you can help us provide up to 100 meals.”
Blackstock was honored by the retired educators with a community service award, and she explained how the food bank is making an impact in Hall County and Northeast Georgia in unique ways, such as opening a pantry this year for elementary students and their families at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy in Gainesville.
“It’s always about going where the people are,” Blackstock said. “We find that’s the most effective way to make a difference in people’s lives.”