Kelsey Podo
The Times
Published: Aug 5, 2021, 6:57 PM

Empty Bowl Lunch, Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s largest and only fundraiser of the year, is returning to the Ramsey Conference Center Tuesday, Sept. 21.

The doors will open at 11 a.m., and the program will begin at 11:45 a.m. Masks wearing will be required.

Kay Blackstock, executive director of the nonprofit, said she is thrilled to hold the event in person after featuring it only online last year. Despite the switch to virtual in 2020, she said the organization witnessed record numbers. The food bank raised enough money to provide more than 833,150 meals to families and individuals struggling with hunger throughout Hall, Lumpkin, Union, Dawson and Forsyth counties.

This year, Blackstock said the organization aims to supply one million meals.

“There’s not any reason why anyone should be hungry in our community and in our country,” she said. “ … We’re not only working to try to avoid the (food) waste and any child, individual or senior going hungry, we’re also a community partner that wants to find ways to keep people from being in a situation where they don’t have enough resources to provide for themselves or their families.”

Per tradition, hundreds of bowls hand-painted by community members will be on display for the event’s supporters to take home.

“Those little bowls, they may have some things in common, but there’s not one of them that’s exactly alike,” Blackstock said. “Everybody deserves to have food to eat.”

Blackstock said the event will be streamed online for those unable to attend it in person. She anticipates an attendance of around 1,000 people. All ticket holders and sponsors will receive a boxed lunch provided by Performance Foodservice. Those attending virtually can choose to have their meal delivered.

The event’s presenting sponsor is LaserCraft Technologies.

The theme of this year’s fundraiser is “growing the love,” which Blackstock said is about “lifting up kindness and compassion” and giving people the opportunity to “personally make a difference in somebody’s life by supporting the food bak.”

Several awards will be presented at the luncheon, such as the Individual Volunteer of the Year in honor of the late Phillip Bond Sartain, a founding board member; Corporate Volunteer of the Year in memory of Jim Walters, longtime supporter of the nonprofit; and the Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart Award, honoring philanthropist Mike Banks.

Like years prior, the 2021 Empty Bowl Lunch will hold a live auction at the end of the program with a few “celebrity bowls.” People can expect to see bowls personalized by well-known individuals including comedian Jeff Foxworthy; Gary Black, Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture; Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield; Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams; songwriters performing at the upcoming John Jarrard Foundation concert; Clark Howard, radio host; Brian McCann, former professional baseball catcher; and several others.

“There’s no way for me to adequately describe how wonderful it feels to stand on stage and see that much community support right in front of you and volunteers working,” Blackstock said. “It’s so much positive energy. We just can’t wait.”

Sponsorships start at $750, and individual tickets can be bought for $30. People can purchase tickets by calling 770-534-4111 and sponsorships by visiting