The Coastal Star

Pay it Forward: Empty Bowls event benefits Palm Beach County Food Bank

Empty Bowls committee members (l-r) Michelle Donahue, Tara Laxer, Michelle Broda, Blair Jones, Sandra Meier, Stephanie Dodge, Co-Chairwomen Julie Peyton Stein and Patty Jones, Renee McGovern, Don Tolep, Renee Reiersen and Palm Beach County Food Bank Executive Director Karen Erren. Photo provided by Wordsmith Communications

By Amy Woods

    “Eat simply so others can simply eat.” The telling tag line for Empty Bowls Delray Beach points to the hunger problem plaguing Palm Beach County.
    One out of six residents does not know where his or her next meal is coming from, according to Karen Erren, executive director of the Palm Beach County Food Bank. That translates into about 200,000 neighbors, 60,000 of whom are children.
    “While the comparative between our wealth and our need here in Palm Beach County can be very striking, it remains,” Erren said. “When we think about hungry people, the image that we have in our mind is not reality.”
    The nonprofit food bank is the beneficiary of Empty Bowls Delray Beach — an outdoor lunch of soup and bread Dec. 3.
 The bank will put the proceeds to use in four program areas: benefits outreach (helping families apply for SNAP); Food4OurKids (providing meals for children during weekends); food recovery and distribution (working with farmers and grocers to ensure edible items do not go to waste); and nutrition-driven (making fresh food available where it is needed most).
    The organization procures 5 million pounds of food annually, but that is nowhere near enough to end the hunger problem in Palm Beach County.
    “Often, shockingly, for those of us in the United States, hunger is an issue in every county, every city and often every neighborhood,” Erren said. “Empty Bowls was founded to help put us in the places of those who stand in line to get the food that we need. It has such a tie to our mission.”
    Empty Bowls came to life in 1990 in Michigan. Empty Bowls Delray Beach made its debut last year at Old School Square, attracting more than 1,200 and raising $100,000.
    “Of course, this year our focus is on how can we build on the impressive first-year success,” Erren said. “The Delray Beach community has been so responsive.”
    Thirty local restaurants each will donate five gallons of soup — everything from coconut curry to conch chowder to creamy artichoke — and Old School Bakery will bring the bread. Guests also each get a bottle of water and a cookie and can take home a handmade ceramic bowl as a symbol of their support.
    “It’s a reminder that there are people out there who can’t fill that bowl with food,” Co-Chairwoman Patty Jones said. “We just want to make sure that the community is aware of the issue of hunger.”
    Co-Chairwoman Julie Peyton Stein agreed: “Awareness of the issue is key to getting our community to come together to help tackle this problem. It is a message to all of us to help our neighbors.”

If You Go
What: Empty Bowls
Delray Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 3
Where: Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave.
Cost: $25
Information: Call 243-7922 or visit

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