Nearly 170 people bought tickets to the revival of Bread of the Mighty’s annual fundraising luncheon, Empty Bowls, but more arrived on Thursday and bought tickets at the door.
The UF Hilton lobby smelled like chicken soup as guests mingled in the lobby, perusing bowls, taking photos and admiring a Heisman Trophy. As the event got underway, the guests filtered into a ballroom and lined up for soup, bread and cookies to enjoy a meal together and hear about Bread of the Mighty’s work.
The event featured Steve Spurrier as its keynote speaker. Spurrier is well-known in Gator territory as a Heisman Trophy recipient, SEC Player of the Year and college football championship coach. Before making his speech, Spurrier announced he is donating $15,000 to Bread of the Mighty to start the fundraiser off strong.
Spurrier gave a short speech about his football journey, noting advice throughout his stories.
“I encourage people to do whatever they do in life and do it the best they can,” Spurrier said in his speech. “Find out what you do really well, and then try to be the best you can in that, and good things will happen to you along the way.”
Participants paid $60 for each ticket, which included one bowl from a selection handmade by local students at Buchholz High School, Gainesville High School and Oak Hall School. For an additional donation, guests could take another student-made bowl or a wooden bowl donated by Woodturners of Alachua County.
Guests also had the opportunity to take a photograph with Spurrier’s Heisman Trophy for a $25 donation. During a brief fundraising auction after his speech, a football with signatures of multiple Heisman winners, including Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow and Steve Spurrier sold for $5000. A pair of tickets to a future Gators game, with a beachside hotel stay included, sold for $3200. All proceeds from the auction went to Bread of the Mighty.
Bread of the Mighty has not hosted Empty Bowls since 2019, but since its recent merger with Feeding Northeast Florida (FNEFL), organizers decided it was a good time to bring the event back and introduce the partnership to the community.
“This is really our first opportunity to showcase the work we're doing to the community and this new partnership and all the benefits that we have from this new partnership,” Patrick Dodds, executive director of Bread of the Mighty, said in an interview.
Though Bread of the Mighty is now technically a branch of FNEFL, it remains a local food bank with its own staff and local community connections, according to FNEFL president and CEO Susan King. FNEFL is contributing its resources, but Bread of the Mighty is still focused on its area.
“It has been an extraordinary, extraordinary opportunity to take two organizations that have different cultures that are in different communities and find ways to mesh those to be even better,” King said in a speech on Thursday.
The merger is intended to extend FNEFL’s reach, and Bread of the Mighty’s resources. Dodds said Bread of the Mighty is looking to do more than just feed people, expanding into nutrition education and advocacy.
Bread of the Mighty provides up to eight meals from every $1 donated, partnering with other local organizations such as churches, businesses and community groups to distribute the food.
Kenneth Watts picks up food from Bread of the Mighty to hand out from his church, Redeeming Faith and Anointing, every week. He said he remembers receiving help from friends and neighbors when he was growing up, and wants to pass that help along.
“What really is impactful is the fact that people, they really need food. And they say every time they come is, what a difference we made,” Watts said in an interview.