TUPELO • The annual Empty Bowls luncheon seeks to raise awareness of the ongoing needs for the hungry and homeless from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at the Tupelo Furniture Market (TFM) and at Fairpark, where the Salvation Army Canteen will operate as a food truck.
The event will include a silent auction, local pottery makers selling their pottery, and a bake sale at both locations, with BancorpSouth sponsoring at TFM and Renasant Bank at Fairpark. Tickets cost $15 for both guests and volunteers.
On average, more than 45 restaurants, commercial caterers and chefs provide more than 40 types of soup, which comes with bread and water. The idea to serve soup, bread and water is because that may be all a hungry person receives in a day, said soup chairman Martha Bland.
“It helps support people in this community getting a hand up instead of a handout,” Kristi Hillhouse, the chairperson for Empty Bowls.
With more than 20 years, the Empty Bowls Luncheon has long established itself as a key fundraiser for the Salvation Army’s food program, which includes the lunch line five days a week, breakfast and supper everyday at the Red Shield Lodge, food bags and boxes, and two Meals on Wheels routes.
From October 2018 to September 2019, the Salvation Army served 123,729. Bland said this number is lower because of kitchen renovations over the summer, and they hope to feed even more this year.
“You just don’t realize how many hungry people are in this town, and we need to make it where people are not afraid to ask for help or make it easy for them to get help,” Bland said.
Hillhouse said they raised $43,500 at last year’s luncheon and hope to raise $50,000 at this year’s luncheon. About 2,000 people come to the event each year, and Hillhouse said they receive great community response with different demographics of people every year. Often, people use the luncheon as an opportunity to catch up with friends in the community or see others.
“I’m very thankful that our community is making a big push on the hunger and homeless in our area,” Bland said.
Featured soups include chili, broccoli and cheese, jambalaya, black-eyed peas and mustard greens, and shrimp and lobster among others. Bland also said many restaurants are still deciding what to showcase, and many use it as a chance to try something new or highlight their standard soups.
Attendees also receive a ceramic pottery bowl made by the Salvation Army Mud Ladies, a group of volunteers who meet twice a week over the course of a year to make the bowls from scratch. Local schools and pottery makers in the community also make bowls. This year, there will be 2,500 bowls.
The luncheon is the only fundraiser for the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary. A couple hundred volunteers are used, and Bland said they could always use more volunteers to help bring in soup and serve.
“I’m just thankful for everybody that comes out and buys tickets and gets involved with the event. Without all the volunteers that are involved, and all the restaurants that do what they do, we wouldn’t be able to host this event,” Hillhouse said. “It’s not one person who is doing this, it’s all of us coming together as a team to better our community,” Hillhouse said.
The luncheon still seeks additional sponsors. Those interested in donating silent auction items, volunteering, or restaurants interested in participating can contact Bland at 662-891-7000.
Tickets may be purchased online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4447144 or in person at Wayfil Jewelry, Stones Jewelry, Tupelo Trophy & Gifts, Midnite Pottery, Avonlea, Joyful Creations, Room to Room Furniture, Reed’s Gumtree Book Store, at the Salvation Army office or from a Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary member. Anyone looking to make a call in order can call 662-213-7596.