Bags on table for Empty Bowl lunchKelsey Podo
The Times

Updated: Sep 22, 2020, 7:28 PM

Although the COVID-19 pandemic meant this year community members couldn’t attend Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s 12th annual Empty Bowl Lunch in person, they still answered the call online and raised enough to provide 833,015 meals.

More than 100 groups and individuals, several of whom participated in the event’s live auction held over video chat, tuned into the Zoom event Tuesday afternoon.

“I can’t be anything more than just grateful,” Kay Blackstock, the nonprofit’s executive director, said after the fundraiser. “It’s the right thing to do, it’s important work. Nobody should be hungry.”

Man passing out a brown paper bag to a parked car
Georgia Mountain Food Bank volunteers of the year Steve and Jayne Tanner pass out bowls and lunches Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at First Baptist Church prior to the 12th Annual Empty Bowl Luncheon. This year’s event is virtual. – photo by Scott Rogers

Instead of inviting people to eat together like in years prior, the nonprofit packed and delivered boxed lunches provided by Performance Foodservice to its sponsors, as well as hand-painted bowls and Empty Bowl Lunch T-shirts. Those who purchased individual tickets picked up their lunches at First Baptist of Gainesville before the live online event.
Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s Empty Bowl Lunch award recipients

Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart: Rodney Greene

Individual Volunteer of the Year: Steve and Jayne Tanner

Corporate Volunteer of the Year: Starbucks of Northeast Georgia
Doug Carter, the event’s auctioneer, said the fundraiser drew in more than 80 sponsors. The sponsorships for the event started at $750 and went to $10,000.

All the proceeds from the lunch fundraiser will support the nonprofit, which feeds people in Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union counties. In fiscal year 2020, Blackstock said the nonprofit distributed 5,653,682 pounds of food to those it serves collectively with Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Before diving into the live auction, Blackstock took a moment to recognize three Empty Bowl Lunch award recipients. The Individual Volunteer of the Year award was presented to Steve and Jayne Tanner, and Starbucks of Northeast Georgia received the Corporate Volunteer of the Year award.

“I was very honored and very surprised,” Greene said after the fundraiser. “I never knew Mike Banks myself, but I know he’s a respected individual in the community. I just feel like there’s a lot of great volunteers, and I have a great team of volunteers at LaserCraft.”

Greene said he has volunteered with the nonprofit for over 12 years and regularly invites his employees to get involved with the food bank’s efforts.

“When I first volunteered, I saw that there was a hunger in our counties, especially with our children,” he said. “One time me and my brother discussed that if we’re going to do something for the community, let’s go all in with one organization.”