Empty Bowls raises $8,000 for Backpack Buddies

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Thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers, food-insecure students in Bartow County who rely on school to provide their meals during the week will continue to have food to eat on weekends.

Held Sunday afternoon at the Bartow County College and Career Academy in Cartersville, the ninth annual Bartow Empty Bowls Project raised $8,000 for the Backpack Buddies program, which provides weekend food for roughly 1,100 students in the Bartow County and Cartersville City school systems who depend on school breakfasts and lunches for their weekday nourishment.

"This is more than we raised last year," said Adairsville High art teacher Jayme Laney, who hosted the event with his wife, Kristy. "We set a goal of $10,000 each year; however, we are never disappointed if we didn't reach that magic number. We are happy with whatever people in our community are willing to give."

Laney said everyone had a "wonderful time" at the one-day grassroots fundraiser, which started in 2011. 

"We had a great turnout this year at Bartow Empty Bowls," he said, noting more than 40 volunteers helped out with the fundraiser. "Our team believes we had a successful event. Food, drink, music, art, friends, families and donations were all enjoyed in the spirit of charity for our friends in the Backpack Buddies project."

Kelly Whitmire, homeless liaison for Bartow County Schools, also called the "well-attended" event a big success. 

"It brought the community together for fellowship and helped to make sure tummies are full," she said. "Eight-thousand dollars will provide food for approximately 30 kids for the entire school year. I’d definitely say that is a success." 

As people arrived at the BCCCA for the event, they chose one of 500 handmade ceramic bowls created weeks in advance by potters, artists and art students to take home.

"Once they have chosen a bowl to keep as a reminder of empty bowls in the world, they go inside to the sounds of entertainers on stage," Laney said. "Either Natalie Goodwin or Kim and Matt [Norris] and the Band of Brothers provided live music for the afternoon."

Guests were able to keep refilling their bottomless bowls with a variety of soups, stews, chili, pastas, salads and desserts as they enjoyed a "taste of some of Bartow County's best chefs" from restaurants like Alisha's Kitchen, Johnny Mitchell's Smokehouse, El Nopal, CiCi's Pizza, St. Angelo's Pizza, Adairsville General Store and Mercantile Cafe, Cracker Barrel, Cartersville Country Club, Moore's Market, Adams Bar-B-Que, Jefferson's, Pinkard's Diner, Coconuts, a "family favorite" from Monica Laney and desserts from Adairsville Elementary PTO, Laney said.  

After filling up on the all-you-care-to-eat meal, they were free to place their bids on silent-auction items created by various local artists, Laney said.  

"Once again, 100% of the money goes to Backpack Buddies," he said.

If less than 500 tickets are sold for the event, the bowls that are left over "get packed away until next year," Laney added.

Whitmire said she was grateful to the community, restaurants and volunteers for their continued support of Empty Bowls and Backpack Buddies and to the Laneys for being the "creative geniuses behind this program and continuing to sacrifice their time each year."

"Next year is Year 10, and rumor has it that plans are already being made to make it the best Empty Bowls ever," she said.

But it's no rumor. 

"Next year is our 10th annual event so we want it to be special," Laney said. "We will call it 'A Decade of Donations.'" 

He is already asking the community to save the date: Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, from noon to 2:30 p.m. at BCCCA.