This year’s Empty Bowls luncheon is on and thus not a victim of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
But, the event will not be an in-person luncheon as in years past according to organizers. Instead, the Empty Bowls Luncheon will be a drive-thru affair in order to comply with COVID-19 coronavirus social distancing guidelines.
International Friendship Center board member and Empty Bowls Event Co-Chair Deborah Berlin said she hopes this year’s Empty Bowls luncheon will be a one-time thing.
“It’s the first time and hopefully the last time we’ll have to do it this way,” she said. “We’re hoping a lot of people show up that day. A lot of time they just show up and buy their bowl lunch.”
Hosted by the Highlands First Presbyterian Church, the Oct. 4 luncheon will still involve a handcrafted bowl, soup and dessert, but will be carry-out only, Berlin said.
The $25 luncheon donation includes the bowl, soup and dessert.
Berlin said about 200 tickets so far have been sold, though she didn’t have an exact amount.
Lunches will be passed out at curbside on Church Street from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. according to Highlands Food Pantry director Marty Rosenfield, who is also a participating chef in this year’s luncheon.
Silent auction is on
Another way people can support the Empty Bowls Luncheon is via the silent auction, which will be held separately due to social distancing restrictions.
“Since the luncheon is a curbside luncheon, the silent auction will be ongoing from Sept. 27 until Oct. 10,” Berlin said. Auction items will be on display at Smitten, located at 468 Main Street.
Auction items will be on display in the front window. Interested bidders can go inside and place a bid.
Items on display for auction include various pottery art, paintings and other pieces of artwork donated by local artists. Other auction items like private dinners and trips are not included due to social distancing, Berlin said.
“The biggest thing we want people to know is that we are having an Empty Bowls luncheon,” she said. “It hasn’t been canceled. It will be different this year, but we’re hoping just as many people come out to this event in their cars to pick up meals as they did in recent years.”
A total of 400 handcrafted bowls are in stock to be included with between 200-250 lunches of soup and a cookie to be handed out during the Oct. 4 curbside luncheon, according to Rosenfield.
“I’m hoping we can do more than 200 lunches, maybe 300, but a lot of these bowls we’ll save for next year’s luncheon,” Rosenfield said
The handmade ceramic bowls were provided by The Bascom. In addition to Rosenfield, the soup and dessert will be provided by local chefs and restaurants to include Old Edwards Inn & Madison’s Restaurant, Lakeside Restaurant, Kristy Lewis and the Highlands United Methodist Church and Four65 Woodfire Bistro & Bar.
How to get your bowl
Rosenfield said, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. those attending the lunch will be able to drive down Church Street to the First Presbyterian Church and pick up their soup bowl lunch curbside at the designated spot at the church.
“There won’t be any church services on Sunday so there shouldn’t be much traffic,” Rosenfield said. “We hope people will keep that in mind.”
The town approved a total of 10 parking spaces to use in accommodating traffic, five on each side. Motorists will drive through the church’s porte cochere off Church Street where volunteers will be passing out pre-packaged soup and dessert, and bowls.
“We like to get set up about a half-an-hour early, about 11 a.m. to be ready when the curbside pickup begins at 11:30,” Rosenfield said.
Rosenfield said the best way to participate in the luncheon in terms of traffic flow is to purchase the $25 ticket from the International Friendship Center’s website.
“We’re set to take credit and debit cards, and cash, but having a pre-paid ticket will keep the line moving,” he said.
Tickets can be found at www.internationalfriendshipcenter.org.
Social distancing observed
Regina Lupoli, International Friendship Board Member and Empty Bowls Event Co-Chair said event organizers want to be sure social distancing guidelines and procedures will be maintained throughout the two-hour curbside carry-out.
“In light of the current pandemic, we are making every effort to keep our volunteers and supporters safe and healthy by creating a contactless curb-side event,” she said. “Event attendees will stay in their cars and volunteers will deliver the bowl, and individually packaged soup and dessert to them.”
Lupoli said masks will be worn and social distancing practiced where possible.
Serving families in need
The Empty Bowls luncheon partners with the First Presbyterian Church, local artists, restaurants and chefs to support the Highlands Food Pantry and help meet the needs of the area’s underserved neighbors.
“Food insecurity in Macon County is among the highest in the state, and the Food Pantry is serving this community both effectively and with compassion,” Lupoli said.
Berlin praised the staff and more than 70 volunteers of the Food Pantry for all their work under difficult circumstances. The Food Pantry exists under the umbrella of the International Friendship Center and feeds more than 4,000 people each year. Before the pandemic, the pantry served an average of 65 families each week.
“The number of families in need of food assistance has increased this year, and would have likely increased even if there was no COVID-19,” Berlin said.
The number provided by IFC shows an increase to an average of 70-80 per week, a number typically not seen until winter months set in.
“Early on, many of the food insecurities were due to people getting laid off, or who lost their jobs, when the pandemic started,” Berlin said. “Marty and the rest of the volunteers at the Food Pantry are doing an amazing job, and that’s true always, but this has been a very trying time. They’re doing a lot of extra work.”
The donations from the annual Empty Bowls event will help the Food Pantry serve families throughout the year, Berlin said.