Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s (GMFB) Annual Empty Bowl Lunch, a fundraising event that helps eliminate hunger in Northeast Georgia, saw a return to its first in-person event since 2019. With almost 1,000 guests in attendance, early estimates show the event raised enough money to help provide almost 1.1 million meals to those in need throughout Hall, Lumpkin, Union, Dawson and Forsyth counties. 

Lasercraft Technologies served as presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year.

“It is our honor to sponsor the Empty Bowl Lunch,” said Rodney Greene, president of LaserCraft Technologies. “This great event is not only an important fundraiser for Georgia Mountain Food Bank, but it also raises awareness that hunger and food insecurity do exist in our own communities, which we have watched become even more pronounced in the last two-plus years. Every year, I’m amazed at the community support. The impact it makes on our LaserCraft team to continue to work to make a difference can’t be understated. It just highlights the fact that every single person can help fight hunger…starting with me.”

Steven Ellis, Empty Bowl Committee Co-Chair, was this year’s emcee. 

“The help the Food Bank provides to those who need it the most is exactly why it’s important to give financially to help further that mission,” Ellis said. “The amount of work that goes into fundraising for the Empty Bowl Luncheon alone is quite staggering. We’re blessed that we have the trust of our partners and other financial supporters through our community and beyond. It’s a testament to the service they provide and the work and volunteerism that goes on behind the scenes to execute the plans and achieve the goals set by both staff and the board of directors.” 

The event featured a live auction, conducted by Doug Carter, and included hand-painted bowls recognizing or signed by:

  • UGA head coach Kirby Smart, fresh off the Dawg’s 2021 National Championship win
  • Former Blue Angel and Top Gun: Maverick pilot and advisor, US Navy Commander Frank Weisser
  • 1973 Masters Champion and North Georgia’s own, Tommy Aaron 
  • Famed comedian and actor Kenan Thompson
  • Walking Dead and Where the Crawdads Sing actor Jayson Warner Smith
  • A bowl honoring Bruce Burch and John Jarrard
  • Original paintings by Frank Norton 

The live auction alone raised enough to provide 71,500 meals to the community. 

“The Empty Bowl lunch provides us with an opportunity to consider hunger in a different way,” said Cheryl Jones, GMFB’s Board Chair. “As we all gather together, we can see the collective impact that an event like Empty Bowl can bring – the knowledge that supporting this event is providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for someone else. It truly emphasizes that we live in community together. As GMFB board chair, I see the difference made by the annual Empty Bowl event as our only major fundraiser to bridge the food insecurity gap in our communities, and every donation makes this possible.”

 The Empty Bowl Lunch is scheduled annually for the month of September because it is Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month – a time when food banks across the nation encourage and challenge their communities to act to fight hunger. 

Also at the event, GMFB premiered the release of an impact video, featuring area school children working together to demonstrate that any act, large or small, can help make an impact on hunger. The students also had an opportunity to lead the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem to those in attendance at the event.

“To see people in a range of ages, from our young school children, to our senior adults, and everyone in between, coming together at this event just touches your heart,” said GMFB executive director, Kay Blackstock. “Hunger is something that can impact every one of us, and the recognition that we can all do something to help someone else, in big and small ways, is a great reminder that we receive when we come together at Empty Bowl.”

This year also featured the selection of the Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart award in memory of philanthropist and friend of GMFB, Mike Banks of Gainesville. This legacy award is a part of Empty Bowl each year and is given to an individual whose contributions to GMFB truly reflect “the heart of a giver” in the same way that Mike Banks lived his life. This year’s recipient was George Wangemann. 

Two other honorary awards involved the volunteers at the Food Bank. The Phillip Bond Sartain Individual Volunteer of the Year award this year went to Dr. Jackie Pray, for her consistent support of the Food Bank in a volunteer capacity.  The James A. Walters Corporate Volunteer of the Year award went to Free Chapel, for the substantial support they give to the Food Bank food distribution efforts.

“Anyone who volunteers at the Food Bank or donates to a fundraiser that provides meals, is making a difference,” Blackstock continued. “There are some people who have truly made it their mission to end hunger in our area, and we want to honor those commitments with these awards, named for some of the biggest hearts who have served alongside us at GMFB.”

As an ongoing tradition, each person who attended the Empty Bowl Lunch took home a hand-painted pottery bowl that was donated by various members of the community and local artists. The bowl serves as a reminder of the organization’s efforts to fill the thousands of empty bowls in our community. For more information about GMFB, visit or call 770-534-4111.