Getting food from Empty Bowls

Apr. 25—HERMITAGE — As Erica Wenger made her choice from a display of the eponymous empty bowl souvenirs, she said the event's greatest attraction is self-evident.

"I mean, look at it," the Sharon woman said during Mercer County Food Bank's eighth annual Empty Bowls event Thursday at the Hickory VFW hall. "The community is all here."

Empty Bowls is the food bank's biggest fundraiser and biggest social event. Food bank Director Becky Page said more than 200 people bought advance tickets, and she expected 400 total to attend.

"It's really important to our mission at the food bank," Page said of the event.

The Mercer County Food Bank uses funds raised by Empty Bowls and from other sources to pay for a wide range of programs, including the BackPack program that provides healthy food for children to take home on the weekends when they don't have access to school lunches, and Myron's Meal Mobile, a repurposed school bus that delivers hot meals throughout Mercer County in the summer.

The food bank also provides food to more than 30 affiliated food programs. In 2023, it distributed more than 2.6 million pounds of food.

Among the programs supported by the food bank is the Blessing Box at New Virginia United Methodist Church in Hermitage, which meant Helen Healy and Sally Tice, both of Hermitage were paying the blessing back Thursday at Empty Bowls. Over the years, they have become regulars at the event.

"We try to come here every year," Healy said. "I like what it stands for and they usually have good food."

The price of admission — $30 for adults — included a soup, bread, dessert, beverage and a clay bowl made by artisans from HopeCAT, Studio 83 in Sharon and students from throughout the area.

Those bowl contributors were part of a community represented on both sides of the chafing dishes that warmed soups provided by more than 20 restaurants and organizations and the hearts of participants. Volunteers served the meal and operated 50-50 drawings and raffle auctions.

A range of local luminaries served food, including Mercer County Commissioners Ann Coleman and Bill Finley Jr., Grove City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Beth Black and Greenville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ben Beck.

Among the celebrity volunteers was 8-year-old Danica McMahon, USA National Miss Princess Pennsylvania. Danica, accompanied by her mother, Michelle, was in her second year volunteering at Empty Bowls.

"It's fun," Danica said. "We like it."

NOTE: This article was edited April 26 to remove a reference to Blessing Boxes. The Mercer County Food Bank cannot support or supply Blessing Boxes due to food safety concerns.