Huge crowd turns out for annual Empty Bowls luncheon

By Bobby Pepper/Lee County Neighbors

TUPELO – Before dipping her spoon into a bowl of potato soup, 11-year-old Chandler Head paused to think about the people who struggle to find something to eat every day.
Chandler, a home-schooled sixth-grader, was one of hundreds Wednesday who attended the 14th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon. Proceeds from the event support The Salvation Army’s effort to feed the needy.
“It’s a great cause,” said Chandler, who lives in the Brewer community in Lee County. “All the money goes to their meals. By getting our food, we’re giving them food.”
Sponsored by Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary, the Empty Bowls Luncheon gives patrons a chance to buy soup, pottery, cakes and other items to help the nonprofit’s food program. In 2011, the Army served 76,441 meals in Tupelo and tornado-ravaged Smithville.
This year’s event drew a large turnout that kept 40 tables in the Tupelo Furniture Market Building V filled. Fifty restaurants and organizations served soup, which the ticketholders enjoyed with bread and bottled water.
“As soon as we opened up the soup line at 11 a.m., the tables were almost all full immediately afterward,” said Empty Bowls chairwoman Karla Joblin.
Salvation Army Maj. Sue Dorman was excited to see the huge crowd. Each person who purchased a ticket received a souvenir ceramic bowl as a reminder of the hungry who live in the area.
“When they come here, they’re made more aware that people are going without food, and sometimes soup is all they may have,” Dorman said.
The luncheon left an impression on two first-time attendees.
Rika Okamoto, a native of Japan living in Tupelo, was invited to the luncheon by her English tutor, Auxiliary volunteer Marguerite Johnson, and friends who attended in 2011.
“It’s much bigger than I expected,” Okamoto said. “They told me about last year, how the soups were fantastic. My English teacher told me there were 50 soups we can try.”
Winnie Crawford, who moved to Tupelo from Michigan, was glad to see the community support for it.
“All classes and all levels of people are here,” she said. “There is a need in our community, and the poor will always need our help. It’s godly for us to embrace and help others.”
For the first time, the luncheon featured a celebrity fashion show to raise additional money. The celebrities walked from table to table soliciting donations to win the title of fashion king and queen. Dr. John Vaughn and Mary Werner were the winners, and the celebrities combined to raise $6,273.81, according to fashion show organizer Jenny Lynn Johnson.

Click video to hear audio