Empty Bowls Monongalia

The parking lot was packed at Mylan Park, so I knew there would be a wait, serves me right for being late. But it was a good sign of a successful fundraiser and the wait wasn’t as long as I thought it would be! The line inside snaked around with a zipper merge that my driving instructor Mr. Diggs would have approved of, keeping us all indoors rather than out in the cold. It was the perfect day for soup and there was plenty of it! 90 different vendors with a variety of soup from Cajun to chili to chicken noodle and some kind of lemon soup that turned out to have more bite than it appeared to. A kind volunteer named Larry needlessly apologized to me for the wait on the way in, “at least it’s for a worthy cause so we just smile and carry on!” he told me. Larry was absolutely right about that.

The Empty Bowls Monongalia Luncheon is a fundraiser to help combat food insecurity in Mon County. The Empty Bowls Mon website defines “Food Insecure” as when “a person who is unable to consistently access adequate amounts of nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.” 16,000 people in Monongalia County are food insecure and over 2,500 of those are children. Their website also provides what percentage of kids are food insecure broken down by school. In the 2016-2017 school year, 60% of Skyview Elementary students in Westover were considered to be food insecure. Reading that sent a shiver down my spine. I’ll never look at a school bus full of kids the same way again, from here on out wondering which of those kids doesn’t have snacks and dinner waiting at home for them like I had.

As we waited in line at the luncheon, I noticed that the majority of the people around me were families with children. I tried not to be obvious in my eavesdropping, but overheard one father talking to his grade school aged daughter about why they were there. I didn’t catch all of it (despite being a public space, it seemed creepy listening too closely to this intimate parenting moment), but I heard the words “kids at school” and “helping others,” and was satisfied that he did a good job.

I’ve always been comfortable saying “table for one,” but this time I didn’t want to take up the table space so I decided to get it to-go. That, and I’d spotted my more punctual friends leaving as I was just walking in.

The $20 entry gets you all the locally made and donated soup you desire, two soups at a time and a ceramic bowl to take home made by someone locally. Mine is the blue one pictured with the initials DJ on the bottom. Honestly, it was the closest one to me when I walked in the pottery area so that’s the bowl I grabbed, but I like it very much. There were about 6 soups available and they rotated every 20 minutes. Had I stuck around longer, I could have had seemingly endless combinations of soup. There were loads of volunteers there with name tags that all rang a bell as familiar names because most of them are in the public service arena.

I had met with the Executive Director earlier in the week to talk about Empty Bowls Monongalia, his name is Zack and he’s the one who hit me with the statistics mentioned above. In reading his bio on a flyer at the event, it cites his education and involvement in a number of nonprofit organizations. It continues, “His experience in community development, education, and advocating for social change on a wide-scale systems levels, as well as his passion for Empty Bowl’s mission of combating food insecurity within Mon County make him a great addition to (our) leadership team.” That would make anyone a great addition to any team, but there was something especially passionate about the way he talked about hungry kids in the state of West Virginia that made me want to do more for them. So sitting here, with my body feeling like it’s 90% soup, I will continue to look for opportunities in the community to help Empty Bowls Monongalia.

In the words of Empty Bowls Mon Executive Director Zack: “Someone’s bowl in this county is always empty, and on this one occasion you did something to help alleviate hunger and can choose to do so again in the future at any time…” so lets choose to do so!

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