By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The scent of gourmet soup made it hard to think of fasting, but that didn’t stop a record crowd from kicking off Lent on Wednesday with a mind for charitable giving.
The 12th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon, held each year on Ash Wednesday, started under clear, cold skies in west Tupelo, and people couldn’t wait to get a taste of the local fare.
The biggest annual fundraiser for the Salvation Army of Northeast Mississippi didn’t officially start until 11 a.m., but Martha Bland and her crew in the curbside takeout section had already served dozens of customers a half-hour earlier.
“We get business offices, schools and doctor’s offices – and loads of others,” said Bland, hustling to fill boxes with soup, crackers and napkins.
She and other volunteers from the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary, which sponsors the event, along with an army of volunteers, scurried about the floor like ants, stacking and cleaning.
By 11 a.m., the Tupelo Furniture Market Building V looked like Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras. A river of patrons ambled westward, around the building’s perimeter, eyeing the signs and trying to make a quick decision about which of the 26 soups they’d try first before being swept along in the current.
At one of the first stops on the south end of the floor, Nikki Childers spooned helpings of corn chowder, compliments of The Stables Bar and Grill in downtown Tupelo.
“It’s great to see familiar faces, and this is very fulfilling, to know that our business is helping such a worthy cause,” said Childers.
The cause of which Childers spoke is feeding some 150 hungry people every day, those whom the Salvation Army welcomes into its Carnation Street headquarters or to whom it delivers Meals on Wheels.
Half an hour later, the swarm of generous patrons, paying $12 a head, had lapped up every ounce of the crawfish bisque from Sweet Peppers Deli, as well as the pesto chicken tortellini soup from Park Heights Restaurant.
Christina Harris and Charla Harrell, co-workers at North Mississippi Medical Center, grabbed their bowls and staked out a quiet spot to eat.
“This is warm and comforting, and it has a great texture,” said Harris, diving into pizza soup from Main Street Deli.
The building’s entrances teemed with culinary commerce. Smoked Boston butt roasts were carried home in pairs to hungry families, and boxed meals, sold by employees from BancorpSouth, sold for $60, all the proceeds going directly to feed the hungry.
Auxiliary member Betty Reece guessed that the women sold several thousand dollars’ worth of cakes, cookies and hand-dipped chocolate strawberries, along with hand-crafted works of pottery, or “functional art,” as Rhonda Nunley of Pray Pottery in Iuka called them.
Maj. Sue Dorman of the Salvation Army was confident that the crowd reached at least 3,000, and that the organization exceeded the $35,000 raised last year.
“I was thinking of Paul, who tells us that the body of Christ has many members,” said Dorman. “It takes so many people to make this work. God bless them.”
Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org