By João Bicalho
ORANGE PARK – It is a function with a lot of symbolism. Bowls of soup are served with slices of bread and water. Guests, residents, volunteers and businesses in Clay County come together to offer a meal that starts with students from different schools in Clay County making bowls to help the Salvation Army keep its pantry full.
"It begins with high school students from all around the county and there are classes making bowls that then come to our Empty Bowls function," said Salvation Army Lt. Ben Bridges.
On Nov. 19, the Orange Park United Methodist Church held the Clay County Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary 12th Annual Empty Bowls Luncheon. The event is a fundraiser to provide food locally. Unlike other fundraisers this time of the year, the revenue from donations stays in Clay County.
"The donations stay here. Absolutely, 100 percent stay in Clay County," Bridges said.
All present, at the Family Life Center of the Methodist Church, were part of a tradition dated back to the spring of 1990. An art teacher in Michigan, John Hartom, started a food drive with his students. The students would craft ceramic bowls, invite faculty to a soup lunch and, at the same time, have a fundraiser with donations. The soup-gathering was a reminder that many outside the event were not as fortunate.
Now the event has spread out, reached international levels and it is an act of solidarity for those who understand the value of a meal – especially close to the holidays.
The Salvation Army, in Orange Park, made the event its own with the assistance of the Women’s Auxiliary. Salvation Army Lt. Annie Bridges, Lt. Ben Bridges’ wife, was a big part of putting the event together. Annie said the Women’s Auxiliary work together year-round to make the event a reality in November.
"It’s a group of business women from around Clay County and they solicit businesses for different donations," Annie said.
She said the Women’s Auxiliary important missionisnot only soliciting the food and all the goods auctioned during the luncheon, but also to provide the material to students at schools so they are able to make the bowls.
"They also buy the clay and glaze that goes to different schools," Annie said.
Once the bowls are made, the Salvation Army picks them up at local schools and take to the event, Annie said. "Lake Asbury Junior High does a whole program around their bowls, so they have like a chorus that sings and their band plays and they do a big deal, you know, where their parents can buy their bowls that the kids have made," Annie said. Coming to a function like this, many people cannot understand the many different segments of local society who make it happen, she said. "So, there is a lot of hard work that goes into this
The Salvation Army Auxiliary volunteers, left to right: Volunteer of the Year Zana Burnette, Joan Tate, Barbra Elliott, Anne Murphy and Pat Scott show some of the bowls made by Clay County students at the 12th Annual Empty Bowls Luncheon. The fundraiser event was held at the Family Life Center of the Orange Park Methodist Church on Nov. 19.