For a donation of $15, people who attended the Empty Bowls charity event at the Boys & Girls Club of Brandon could sample everything from sausage potato and kale soup to strawberry daiquiri bisque.
Stacey Efaw of Brandon, executive director of Emergency Care Help Organization, said more than 30 volunteers came out Feb. 15 and served up the soups for the event, which raised funds for the Brandon food pantry.
She said each participant could take home one of the 200 clay bowls made by children from elementary schools.
“It’s a huge awareness event and fundraiser for ECHO,” said Efaw, adding it was the second year it participated in the national hunger awareness campaign. “The empty bowls represent hunger.”
She said volunteers put up a display of food that represents the seven days of food they provide a family of four that visits ECHO, 507 N. Parsons Ave., Brandon. The organization has been helping families since 1987.
“We are seeing an increase need because of the cut to SNAP,” she said, referring to the government assistance program Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Jeff Collins of Valrico was one of the people who provided soup for the event. Collins and his wife, Kathy, have been volunteering for the program for a decade.
Collins prepared his chicken and sausage gumbo made with Creole seasoning, garlic, onions, vegetables, smoked sausage and chicken.
“I’ve been tinkering with it for a number of years,” he said. “I lived in New Orleans for a while.”
Thomas Gill Jr., a Brandon attorney and ECHO board member, made a white chicken chili.
“It’s like workout food,” he said, adding the chili is popular with his family. “It’s all very healthy.”
Gill said he donated to ECHO for a number of years before getting more involved.
“I think it’s one of the most awesome organizations in Brandon,” he said.
Karen Burgess of Valrico, a volunteer for ECHO for four years, said the event gives people a chance to learn how they can help. Most Brandon area residents are extremely generous, according to Burgess.
“We get so much food donated that it’s sometimes overwhelming,” Burgess said. “When people bring in grocery carts full of food, you just want to hug them.”
When people ask her what to donate, she advises them to keep it simple with staples such as pasta and sauce or peanut butter and jelly.
She gets especially excited about being able to provide fresh produce to needy people thanks to gardening space provided by Bay Life Church in Brandon.
“Clients love having fresh vegetables – collard greens and tomatoes,” Burgess said. “We could definitely use people to tend to our gardens – that would be wonderful.”
Efaw said ECHO serves at least 16,000 people each year through its food pantry. They also provide clothing assistance source for residents of the Brandon area who have experienced a recent emergency.
For information on how to volunteer or donate to ECHO, check its website.