At Tuesday’s annual Empty Bowls Luncheon, some elements hadn’t changed since the first edition, including the simple meal of chicken soup, bread and water.
In each of the past 30 years, the event has raised funds for Nourishment Network, the food bank operated by Lutheran Social Services. Some new hunger-relief elements that have begun to supplement the program since last year were explained when supporters gathered for lunch and to select a handmade ceramic bowl to take home.
In addition to collecting and distributing thousands of pounds of food each year, Nourishment Network has partnered with Farm Share, a state program that gets fresh fruit and vegetables from farms and wholesalers for distribution through food banks.
Nourishment Network also is offering a food-plus-nutrition education program for at-risk expectant mothers and a weekend backpack program to help feed students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch in public schools.
What hasn’t changed is the pervasive presence of hunger in North Florida.
“Every day, each of us is likely to cross the path of a hungry person,” said Mayor Alvin Brown. “It’s not just homeless people on the street. We’re talking about our neighbors.”
Wayne Rieley, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, said 40 percent of the food bank’s clients are working families who can’t make ends meet. The decision comes down to having to skip a meal to pay rent. One in six adults in North Florida — and one in four children — don’t know where they will get their next meal, he said.
More than 500 people purchased tickets in advance for the event and Rieley estimated this year’s crowd would reach nearly 800 before guests sat down for a bowl of chicken noodle soup provided by Chick-fil-A.