One day Jennie Yingling, director of the Boys & Girls Club in Lacoochee, noticed that a little boy was scarfing down an after-school meal, stuffing the food in his mouth at a furious pace.
"Jennie was about to correct him on his manners," said Ronnie Deese, chairman of the Boys & Girls Club in Lacoochee. "Then she realized that the child was eating that way because he was starving."
Five days a week, that Boys & Girls Club serves meals to about 45 kids in need. "And we send bags of food home with them for the weekend," said Yingling.
Even with food donations from Feeding America Tampa Bay, the Boys & Girls Club spends about $13,000 a year providing the meals, plus the salary of the chef who prepares them.
Today, they hope to raise money for the program by offering a simple soup lunch to the public at the historic courthouse square in downtown Dade City. The Empty Bowls fundraiser will provide a cup of soup, a slice of homemade bread, a bottle of water and dessert for a suggested $10 donation.
The soup will be served in a handmade clay bowl, made by children in Lacoochee and other area schools.
"There's a reason that we're doing this so close to Thanksgiving," said Deese. "We want to remind people that, as they eat their turkey, others may be eating bread and soup at the soup kitchen."
Even so, this Empty Bowls meal will have a Pasco touch.
Instead of the traditional apple that usually accompanies such a meal, guests will receive a slice of kumquat pie prepared by Pasco County Cooperative Extension students and Rosemary's Kumquat Growers.
Pearl in the Grove, the gourmet Dade City restaurant, will provide the fresh vegetable soup and bread for the event. The cause is a personal one for restaurant owner Curtis Beebe, who has a longstanding partnership with Feeding America Tampa Bay.
"My wife is a teacher at Pasco Middle, so we're very aware of the problem of childhood hunger in this area," he said. "To me it's so ironic that, in this area, so many of these kids' parents make a living through agriculture. They're going without food, even though they're surrounded by it."
Also as a part of their $10 donation fee, guests will keep the handmade bowl in which their meal was served.
"Some of the bowls were made with feet on the bottom, some are heart shaped, some have flowers," said Yingling. "The kids at the (Boys & Girls Club of Lacoochee) made the bowls under the guidance of Molly Barnes, an artist in the area who fired and glazed the bowls for them. They were so excited to see the results. They said, 'That's my bowl!'"
Dade City country artist JT Curtis will play music at the event, which will also feature a silent auction.
Yingling is touched by the support that the East Pasco community has shown for this first Empty Bowls event.
"I care about my kids at the club getting fed," she said. "And now I know that the community cares about them, too."
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If you go
What: Empty Bowls fundraiser, a simple lunch to raise money to feed children served by the Lacoochee Boys & Girls Club
When: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today
Where: Historic courthouse square in downtown Dade City
Cost: A suggested $10 donation
For information: Call event co-chair Susan Matthews at (727) 410-7771.