The collection of multicolored, h andcrafted bowls filling the table, some tiny, others wide and large, served both a functional and symbolic purpose at an annual fundraiser for southern Brazoria County food pantries.

Empty Bowls, the first of a two-day event to increase funding and awareness about fighting hunger in the area, allowed guests to choose from vessels created and decorated by local artisans. The bowls, which the guests could take home, would be filled with soup, just as their donation would help fill pantries of needy residents.

“It is all about, just that reminder of those that go home at night with an empty bowl,” said Laura Mergenhagen, director of the Brazosport Cares food pantry in Freeport, one of the weekend’s beneficiaries.

The Food Basket in Clute also received proceeds from the events, which are organized annually by Mergenhagen and Cindy Noblitt.

More than 200 people turned out to the Lake Jackson Civic Center for Saturday night’s half of the fundraiser, each paying $50 and up for the bowl, meal and entertainment from Cole Degges.

The second part of the fundraiser came Sunday with the Will Dance for Food Zumbathon at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Lake Jackson. Attendees paid $20 each for two hours of Zumba, a combination of Latin-style dance and exercise.

About $250,000 has been raised over the nin e years of the events, Mergenhagen said. Many in the community understand the importance of helping those in need, which is why the fundraiser has become a community staple, she said.

“We are trying to bring awareness as well as raise funds for the pantries so that they can continue to do the work that they are doing, which is not only distribution of food but the pantries that we chose also have educational programs for their clients,” she said. “They are doing innovative things.”

Resident Pam Mahon volunteers at the Food Basket and came to Empty Bowls to make sure she supported the effort to feed more in the community, she said.

“That is why I am here,” she said. “I just love what we are doing to help the community. We know that it is needed, I think.”

Witnessing her peers help those in need is always inspiring to her, and she knows many left Saturday’s event feeling empowered, too, Mahon said.

Barbara Serr became emotional thinking about all the good the event does for hunger relief in Brazoria County, she said.

“I hope people realize how lucky most of us are, that we have enough to eat, that we can afford to come to things like this,” she said. “We are so blessed and we have a lot.”

If people take anything away from the festivities, she hopes they are a bit more charitable, Serr said.

“It is easy to share with people who don’t have enough,” she said. “There are a lot of people who don’t even have soup to eat.”

Seeing all the people come out and donate both their money and time still astounds her, Mergenhagen said.

“The community is fantastic,” she said. “We could not do it without them, that is where the funds come from.”

Connor Behrens is a reporter at The Facts. You can contact him at 979-237-0150.

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