By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Thousands from Tupelo and surrounding communities flocked to the Tupelo Furniture Market on Wednesday, eager to fill their styrofoam bowls with smooth bisques, flavorful chowders and steaming chilis provided by dozens of local vendors at the Salvation Army’s annual Empty Bowls event.
For some of the event’s 53 vendors, like West End Catering’s Bruce Parker, the routine was old hat. He has participated in Empty Bowls for the past eight years, and claimed his flavorful Mexican Bean Nacho concoction was an improvised step off the beaten path.
“You see a lot of traditional recipes like chicken noodle or potato soup, but I wanted to do something not so ordinary,” he said. “When we first started doing Empty Bowls, it probably wasn’t half the size it is now.”
Danvers’ Emily Griggs experienced the event for the first time under the wing of Dot Lyons, who has worked the event for Danvers for as many years as she could remember.
“I didn’t think it would be so big,” Griggs said, filling a bowl with chicken gumbo.
“My favorite part is meeting all the people,” Lyons said.
In the 15 years since its inception, Empty Bowls has become somewhat of a social occasion, attracting more and more patrons as well as vendors each year. This year, proceeds will not only go toward the Army’s food pantry, but also to fund an expansion of the Army’s homeless lodge.
“It’s an excellent show of community support,” said Marguerite Johnson, member of the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary that organized the event. “People really seem to step up for us.”
The SAWA anticipated the growing number of people this year. Last year’s 96 tables were increased to 130 tables, and even then seating was pushed to capacity.
The fashion show, which garnered nearly $7,000, sported a new twist this year; instead of auctioning off an outfit, participators were instructed to dress in a costume that pertained to homlessness and to collect donations from browsing patrons. The man and woman who collected the most were crowned the Empty Bowls King and Queen. This year, B.B. Hosch won the crown with his tattered biker apparel while Lisa Hawkins’ wild-haired bag woman garb earned her the title of queen.
Though donations and ticket sales will continue to trickle in, Empty Bowls chair Karla Joblin said the preliminary count amounted to around $50,000, slightly down from last year’s proceeds of more than $63,000. She attributed the decrease to a decrease in corporate sponsors and local businesses who could not spare a large donation two years in a row.
Nevertheless, patrons left with nearly 3,000 bowls made by the SAWA and local potters over the span of the past year. Judy Hosaflook, publicity chair for the event, said the ladies of SAWA would take two weeks off, then return to firing pottery for Empty Bowls 2014.
More photos from the event in today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.