Empty Bowls feeds the hungry


For $10, guests received hot, homemade chili, a grilled cheese sandwich and a drink. Guests also got to take home an original handmade bowl. / Nick Griffin

CULLMAN – The 15th annual Empty Bowls of Cullman County Chili Dinner has come and gone, and First United Methodist Church Cullman hosted another large and hungry crowd Monday afternoon. The crowd started making its way in just before 4 p.m., whether it was to dine in, carry out or hit the drive-thru. This year’s event featured live entertainment from several southern gospel artists like Enell Baker, Shannon Green, The Potentials and The Revelations.

The event is a major fundraiser for the Cullman Caring for Kids United Way Food Bank, and its executive director, Javon Daniel, is always excited for this day of the year.

“Empty Bowls is by far the largest fundraiser that we have, it’s exciting. We just had prayer in one of the offices and it is so exciting to know that this is a Christian family event,” Daniel said.  You don’t have to worry about the language, you don’t have to worry about anything but just come out and enjoy yourself and have a great time. This is our 15th year and we’re asking God to give us another 15.”

The event has always been held at FUMC Cullman, and Daniel said he’s always appreciated the relationship between the church and Cullman Caring for Kids.

“They’ve all been here at First Methodist and it’s been a great partnership. A lot of our volunteers go to church here and they help organize the logistics part of it. So yeah., it’s been a really great working relationship with the church over the years,” he said. “This is definitely a community event and we at Cullman Caring for Kids are just very humbled that we are able to be the recipient of this fundraiser.”

All 15 Empty Bowls Chili Dinners have been organized by Tanya Shearer and she has seen the event grow over the years into more than she ever imagined when she came up with the idea more than a decade ago.

“It’s grown beyond what I originally thought. The first year we had a planning meeting and then had it two months later and we thought maybe a couple thousand dollars, maybe 200 people. We ended up serving 600 that night and making close to $6,000, so after that Javon (Daniel) said ‘This is an annual event.” I always envisioned it as a community coming together and a special night where we honor God,” Shearer said. “It is still the most precious thing to me, to see all the different people from different churches, people you don’t see very often because maybe you don’t work together or maybe don’t go to the same church, but we all come together and it’s just a very, very beautiful night in our community.”

The camaraderie and fellowship with so many people in the community are what mean the most to Shearer after all these years. She said she also enjoys seeing the crew come together each year to put this night together with their own skills.

“Although we raise money for the food bank, Javon agrees with me, the fellowship in the community is what is just so special. It is a very special night in our community and we just owe it all to God and we lift him up and give all the glory to him because his hand has been in it since the very beginning,” she said. “He assembled the people, and it has always been my great, great joy seeing all the people using their different gifts like Bobby Nolan in the kitchen, the people organizing the carry-out, the potters. The potters are our unsung heroes and I just love seeing everybody using their God-given gifts and talents to make this night very special. You just get to see the hand of God at work where he’s gifted people in different areas. I am very grateful.”

One of those potters that Shearer was praising is Wesley Abbot. Abbot has been part of the Empty Bowls event since the beginning and has been working with clay since 1947. Abbot couldn’t say exactly how many bowls he’s made for the event over the years but said he usually produces about 400 bowls for dinner annually.

Tickets to the event were $10 each, which equals 70 pounds of food for the food bank per ticket. Check www.CullmanTribune.com this week for the latest on Monday’s fundraising total.

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