Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s (GMFB) Annual Empty Bowl Lunch, a fundraising event that helps eliminate hunger in Northeast Georgia saw another record-breaking year. With more than 800 guests in attendance, early estimates show the event raised enough money to help provide more than 685,000 meals to those in need throughout Hall, Lumpkin, Union, Dawson and Forsyth counties.

This year Empty Bowl had its first presenting sponsor, Homestar Financial.

“The success of Homestar comes directly from our communities so giving back in this way is a must. Although we focus on assisting families into homeownership, we also want to do our part to ensure basic individual needs are met. We cannot imagine our communities lacking the resources to create nutritious meals. Proper nutrition is vital for children and adults as it helps establish a solid foundation for good physical and mental health,” said Homestar Financial’s President and CEO, Wes Hunt. “Being able to help such an amazing organization like the Georgia Mountain Food Bank is an absolute honor. While providing nutritious meals helps the body, providing dignity and hope with compassion heals the soul. GMFB provides this to the individuals and families it serves and Homestar wants to help lead the way in encouraging more participants to join GMFB in their mission.”

Empty Bowl 2017 also had five ‘Til no One is Hungry Sponsors including the Atlanta Falcons, AcessWDUN, Chick-fil-A, LaserCraft Technologies and The Times. Doug Carter of Don Carter Realty Co. was this year’s emcee.

The lunch featured a menu coordinated by Performance Foodservice-Milton’s corporate chef, Tony Schmidt. A key partner in the event, Performance Foodservice-Milton’s not only donated Chef Schmidt’s time and the time of many of its staff, but helped procure and solicit donations for all the food (including items from Campbell Soup and Core Group) as well.

The event also featured a live auction, conducted by Carter and included hand-painted bowls including:

  • Two Atlanta Falcons bowls: one signed by Coach Dan Quinn; and one signed by players Matt Bosher, Matt Bryant and Josh Harris
  • Alan Jackson’s Chattachoochee bowl
  • Frank Norton, Jr. platter
  • Georgia Grown bowl honoring Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black
  • Honoring Lanier Technical College New Campus bowl
  • Indigo Girls bowl signed by Emily Saliers and Amy Ray
  • PGA Championship bowl
  • Stuart Higginbotham of Grace Episcopal Church bowl

The live auction alone raised enough to provide 54,250 meals to the community.

“Empty Bowl has always been the perfect opportunity for us to rally together as a community behind the Food Bank and celebrate its work,” said Brett Fowler, GMFB’s Vice Chair. “We are charged with eliminating hunger in our own back yard and with the help of our sponsors and donors we are fighting to do just that. One in five in our area is hungry, but the Food Bank has been able to provide five meals to our families in need with just a one dollar donation.”

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 its new video featuring their partnership with the University of North Georgia (UNG). GMFB and UNG have come together to help volunteer and provide food for kids at organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club and in public places like the school bus and the library. Through the partnership, UNG students can volunteer and get internship experience. The Food Bank has also helped to stock the University’s own food pantry so that those who are food insecure on campus, including students, faculty and staff do not have to sacrifice time worrying where their next meal will come from.

“Thanks in part to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank we are able to keep our food pantry stocked. We have several students who are in school trying to better themselves by getting a degree, and we never want them to have to choose between food and an education,” said Richard Oates Vice President of University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Gainesville campus. “We want our UNG family, which includes faculty and staff, to get out in the community, do their jobs and make a difference. Trying to figure out where their next meal is going to come from is not something we want them to have to think about.”

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 of “The Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart” award was Phillip Sartain.

Sartain served on the founding board of GMFB for six years and an additional year as board chair. During his term he served as the chairman of the board development committee and on the building committee. His tireless support of GMFB has been instrumental in the successes realized of the Food Bank over the past nine years.

Other awards presented were to the corporate volunteer of the year Poly Enterprises and volunteer of the year Brady Taylor.

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 in our community. For more information about GMFB, visit or call 770-534-4111.