By Katie Benfield
Four years ago, Lynn Von Nessen came to a striking realization during a conversation with an out-of-town Floridian. When she had disclosed to the visitor that she worked with the food pantry Feeding Avery Families, her statement was met with shock.
“When I would tell Floridians coming to visit that I worked with a food pantry, they would always stop and go, ‘Wait, you work for a food pantry? There are people who go hungry here?’” Nessen, Founder and Coordinator of Empty Bowls for Avery, said. “That’s when I realized that not only should I be working towards fixing the hunger issue in Avery County, but I should also be raising awareness.”
According to Nessen, what most people don’t realize or know is how severe poverty and hunger are within our community.
“1 out of 3 children in Avery County don’t have the safety of knowing if they are going to have food,” Nessen said. “Most of them are being fed off of the programs through the county where the school provides food for them.”
With this statistic in mind, the idea for the Empty Bowls for Avery was formed and initiated in Avery County.
Empty Bowls for Avery is a fundraiser through which money is raised to benefit Feeding Avery Families, a non-profit organization that provides food support to families in need.
“Every cent counts,” Nessen said.
From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, people from all over the High Country can arrive at the Linville Land Harbor Recreation Center and choose a unique locally handmade pottery bowl to keep – and donate whatever they can.
“They can give us whatever they want,” Nessen said. “We’ve had people donate $100 and we’ve had children give us 22 cents. We are grateful for anything, and all of it helps.”
The bowls offered at Empty Bowls for Avery are made by local high school students from Avery High School and seniors from the Newland Senior Center, all of whom are taught by Patti Connor-Greene in pottery making. There are also bowls made in locations in Boone, Little Switzerland, West Jefferson and more.
“Usually when people come by, they tell us they want the most professionally-made bowl that we have, and then they end up choosing one of the amateur ones,” Nessen said, “because that’s what appeals to them the most.”
Along with being able to choose a bowl, there will also be lunch provided at no cost. Homemade soup, homemade bread and homemade dessert are on the table for everyone who attends the event.
“People don’t just come, eat and then leave at this event,” Nessen said. “Everyone comes and hangs out with each other and enjoys each other’s company.”
In addition to this, there will also be a silent auction that will have a wide array of restaurant gift certificates and services donated by local businesses.
However, the event didn’t always have that.
The first year the event took place, it was held at the Mount Cavalry Baptist Church and, according to Nessen, it was more of a neighborhood-type thing with locals showing up and giving generously.
“We got as many church ladies as we could to cook the food for that first event,” Nessen said. “There was no silent auction yet for that.”
Regardless, the first event raised about $4,300, which truly drew attention to how involved and generous the community of Avery Country is. The second year, the event took place at Mount Cavalry Baptist Church, as well, but a silent auction was added. Over $6,000 was made that year. When the third year came around, the Empty Bowls for Avery moved to the Linville Land Harbor Recreation Center which provided more space for the activities that the event offers.
“They’ve been so kind to allow us to use their facility,” Nessen said. “It’s so open, so we are able to have the silent auction in the middle of everything.”
While the event last year raised $10,000, hopefully more can be raised for the event that is coming up so quickly in the community.
“When people come and see all of these empty bowls, I want them to be reminded of the poverty and hunger that is so prominent in the community,” Nessen said. “There are children with empty bowls in our county.”
Empty Bowls for Avery has undergone a lot of changes throughout its four years of presence in the High Country, but one thing has remained the same – the people.
“The basic feel of the event is the same as the first one we ever had. People are hanging out and enjoying each other’s company,” Nessen said. “People love being there because it’s so uplifting, and there is such a variety of people there, from teens to elders.”
Anyone in the community can join this incredible event that was started for a good cause and continues to raise awareness and money to help those in our community who need it the most.
“The event has really taken off over the last couple of years, and it was a lot to put it all together,” Nessen said, “but I’m happy to see it running so well, and hopefully it will for a long time.”