Filling Empty Bowls to fight hunger

If the Community Food Bank (CFB) has its way, one fine day there will be no empty bowls in Citrus County.

More than 21,000 people struggle with food insecurity in Citrus County alone, amounting to about 15 percent of the population, said John Autry, the new executive director of the CFB-Citrus.

This equates to 1 in 4 children and 1 in 6 adults being in need of food, he said, based on figures provided by www.feedingtampabay.org.

On Saturday, Feb. 3, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., CFB will have the first of a proposed annual fundraiser, called Empty Bowls, as a step toward ending hunger, at least in Citrus County. This year’s event is being held at the First Baptist Church of Crystal River, 700 N. Citrus Ave.

For a donation of $15, guests can select a ceramic bowl that’s been handcrafted by Lecanto High School art students and choose a soup made by one of six local restaurants, along with a slice of bread and water, said Citrus Empty Bowls Chair and CFB board member Bev Goethe. Diners can keep the one-of-a-kind bowls, she said.

“Area restaurants are donating soups of all kinds, and area artists and craftsmen are donating items for a silent auction,” Goethe said.

“We are very excited to be starting this tradition and hope it will continue for many years to come.”

There will also be a kids’ corner play area, Goethe said, and music provided courtesy of Mark Bateman, music minister of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Citrus Springs.

“We will have information about how the Community Food Bank has made an impact on the poor in our community, bringing the food pantries together as a team, and how you can make a difference,” Goethe said.

Empty Bowls is an international nonprofit fundraising program that had its humble beginning in 1990 as an art class project in a Michigan high school to raise funds for a food drive, Goethe said.

“CFB got involved with the Empty Bowls project when the former art teacher at Lecanto High School, William Rubar, decided to have the students who were learning how to throw clay bowls on a pottery wheel do a few extra for community service,” Goethe said. Each student made three bowls to give away and the class contacted the CFB and donated the bowls, she said.

“At the time, in 2013, the food bank was just getting started in Citrus County,” Goethe recalled. So, roughly 600 donated bowls per year were put in storage until CFB was ready to do a fundraiser, she said.

“This year was the year,” she said.

“This will be an annual fundraiser, done in the winter so that the soups served will be good on a cold day,” Goethe said.

It’s also an opportunity to sample the cooking of six area restaurants: Amy’s on the Avenue, Highlander Cafe, McLeod House Bistro, Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters, Katch Twenty-two and River Ranch Bar & Grill will all provide homemade soups for the event.

Autry, a 1994 Citrus High School graduate, has more than 15 years experience leading nonprofits and became executive director of CFB Jan. 1. He sees the Empty Bowl project as a great opportunity for CFB to raise awareness about the struggle with hunger, especially at the local level.

“We gave out over 3 million pounds of food in 2017,” Autry said, “and in order to keep meeting the need in our community, we must continue to raise funds for the food.”

He said he envisions the Empty Bowls project spilling over to bless the 52 other nonprofit agencies that also serve Citrus County.

The $15 donation to Empty Bowls can be made either online at www.citrusemptybowls.eventbrite.com, at the door the day of the event, or at the Community Food Bank, 5259 W. Cardinal St. in Homosassa.

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