Empty Bowls: Good food for a great cause

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Teens prepare meals on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, at the 19th annual Empty Bowls of Cullman County chili dinner. (Cheyenne Sharp)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Hearin Hall at First United Methodist Church (FUMC) was lined wall to wall with tables and chairs on Monday evening, Feb. 19, each setting marked with an adorably scribbled coloring page from a child in the community; volunteers and staff bustled away in the kitchen preparing hearty chili and crisp grilled cheese sandwiches for the crowd – all for a purpose.

The event, which benefits Cullman Caring for Kids, has been around for nearly two decades, only taking a short hiatus in 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The food was prepared by staff and volunteers from FUMC, as well as Cullman Caring For Kids, alongside Three Guys Chili, which has been a big supporter of the benefit throughout its run. Tickets for the meal sold in advance or at the door for $15 each and included a walk through the silent auction, a delicious meal and a one-of-a-kind, hand-thrown pottery bowl, made by  Sandra Heaven. The local potter threw over 1,000 bowls in anticipation of this event, each slightly different than the next.

“We had quite a few businesses order meals for their employees. I think we carried out around 100 meals before (the event started at) 4,” said Javon Daniel, senior director at Cullman Caring For Kids. He chuckled, adding, “These are probably some of the best grilled cheese you can find!”

Guests made their way through the line, collecting their feasts, before returning to their selected seats and enjoying their meals. Some chose to indulge in the spicy special before perusing the nearly 300 donated silent auction items that rested against both walls of the main hallway. Gift cards, coolers, baked goods and knick-knacks were among the auction items, as well as multiple business-donated baskets, which held recipe starters, T-shirts, gift cards, seasonings and more. Stars of the auction were the handful of hand-quilted jackets and bags.

One of the more unorthodox auction items was able to catch Cullman Caring for Kids Executive Director Steven Sutter’s eye. “I know these are things that I don’t see in my everyday life,” he smiled. “It’s a squirrel feeder shaped like a tractor – very, very interesting, very, very neat and very, very cool.”

The total raised for the night was not available as of press time, as silent auction winners were still being contacted.

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