Even though the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s major annual fundraiser was forced into a virtual format for a second year running, the event surpassed its goal of raising enough money to provide one million meals for needy North Georgians.

The event, which was carried via live video feed, was staged at Lanier Technical College in the Ramsey Conference Center.

Organizers for the 2021 luncheon set a lofty goal – to provide one million meals from the proceeds of Empty Bowl alone, something never before achieved by any previous year’s lunches. While some would say it would be impossible in a prolonged pandemic to set new goals and exceed them, GMFB did just that, with this year’s lunch raising enough money to help provide more than 1.225 million meals to those in need throughout Hall, Lumpkin, Union, Dawson and Forsyth counties.

The event also maintained its live auction element, featuring hand-painted bowls recognizing or signed by a number of community-conscious leaders and celebrities, including:

  • Respected civil rights activist and diplomat Ambassador Andrew Young
  • Gainesville CEO/entrepreneur/artist Frank Norton
  • NASCAR drivers and Dawsonville natives, Bill & Chase Elliott
  • Former Atlanta Braves superstars Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira, each contributing a bowl
  • Local hero and cancer survivor Brecklynn Allgood
  • Famous comedian Jeff Foxworthy
  • Financial expert and consumer advisor Clark Howard
  • John Jarrard Foundation Songwriters Bowl

The live auction alone yielded enough funds to provide 169,489  meals for food insecure individuals.

In addition to all the celebrity live auction bowls, each school superintendent in the Food Bank’s service area contributed a hand-painted, signed bowl representing their school district to compete in the “Superintendents’ Challenge.” Donations were made to each district’s donation page, and whoever raised the most money for the Food Bank was declared a victor in this friendly competition. Gainesville City Schools was the winner in the contest.

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.

This year’s virtual event also continued its tradition of recognizing volunteers who have gone above and beyond, including “The Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart” award. Named in memory of Gainesville philanthropist and friend of GMFB Mike Banks, this legacy award honors 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 Mike Banks award was presented to Jim Syfan.

Meanwhile, Wayne Mulkey received the newly-named Phillip Bond Sartain Individual Volunteer of the Year award, named after the Gainesville attorney and supporter of GMFB, Phillip Sartain, who passed away last year. The award was presented by Phillip Sartain’s daughter, Carey Sartain Poydasheff. Syfan Logistics received the newly named Jim Walters Corporate Volunteer of the Year award, named after Jim Walters, following his passing last year as well.

As an ongoing tradition, each person who participated in 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.