Empty Bowls benefit for Community Kitchen has virtual flavor this year

by Kate Evans

The longtime annual Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Morgan County Starting Points Mealtime Community Kitchen is going virtual this year.  The kitchen serves free community meals to anyone three afternoons each week in Berkeley Springs.

The community can help support the meal program through a weeklong online auction, a drive-through donation event and online donations.

Starting Points is holding a drive-through donation event on Friday, November 20 at the agency’s 106 Sand Mine Road location (at the former U.S. Silica Building) from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

The first 45 people to contribute $20 or more will be given a beautiful hand-crafted artisan bowl.

Local artist Veronica Wilson has donated some bowls and the remaining bowls are leftover from previous Empty Bowls events, said Starting Points Executive Director Audrey Morris.

November 20 was the original date for an in-person Empty Bowls event. They had to switch the fundraiser to a virtual format with the COVID-19 pandemic because they just couldn’t do it safely.  Morris said organizers and volunteers are really missing the opportunity to see their friends and supporters at the event this year.

Online auction, donations

As part of the Empty Bowls benefit, people can shop online at the Starting Points private auction at the J Lawyer Auction Services website from November 14 through November 19 for “unique, useful and delightfully different items.”

A silent auction was held during the annual Empty Bowls benefit for many years.  Many supporters would shop for holiday gifts at their silent auction, Morris said.

This year the online auction includes items from artist Carol Hsu, Caperton Furniture Works, a recliner chair from Clark’s, themed-baskets such as manicure-pedicure, dog care and hiking baskets, knitted items from the KnitWits and gift certificates from different local businesses.

Supporters can also participate in the Empty Bowls benefit this year by making a donation on the Starting Points website.

Mealtime Community Kitchen

Starting Points Mealtime Community Kitchen serves meals three days a week — on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays — from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.  Cooks have been offering curbside pickup for meals during the pandemic. Community Kitchen meals are served at no charge, but donations are welcomed.

Meals are being prepared by limited staff at present and then are brought out to vehicles and delivered in compliance with social distancing guidelines.

Normally, volunteers from many churches, businesses and community organizations rotate preparing and serving the Community Kitchen meals, Morris said.  That hasn’t been possible for the last eight months, in part to protect the volunteers.

The Mealtime Community Kitchen began in 2004 and served 13,600 meals in 2019.  Morris said that they’ve been serving more than 90 meals a day since the pandemic began locally.

The Community Kitchen costs Starting Points $22,000 to $24,000 a year to operate, which includes payroll and supplies. Costs include non-food supplies such as meal-serving containers, utilities and a part-time salary to run the kitchen.

The kitchen receives financial donations from local foundations, churches, businesses, civic organizations and community members and also gets generous service and retail discounts from local businesses, Morris said.  They also receive food and produce from the Mountaineer Food Bank, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Farmer’s Market, the Food Lion, churches, businesses and the community.

Community Kitchen meals include a care box of fruits, vegetables and baked goods that have been donated by local businesses, the Farmer’s Market and community members, Morris said.

Fills community need

There are 12 to 14 vehicles that come regularly to pick up meals every day the Community Kitchen is open, she said.  Some people have used the kitchen’s meal service for a while, then get jobs and don’t return and someone else takes their place.

Empty Bowls is Starting Points’ main fundraiser of the year.  Starting Points is a family resource center that provides services, education, information and support to Morgan County families.

“It’s an important fundraiser for our Community Kitchen.  We rely on those funds to operate the kitchen.  We also fill a need in the community,” Morris said.

Morris noted that they’re also checking on the people to whom they serve the meals, seeing what they need and helping them with other household resources.  Their agency is also highlighting hunger and homelessness through the Mealtime Community Kitchen.

“There are people every day in Morgan County who are homeless and hungry,” Morris emphasized.