Sitting in a chair Thursday, Janelle Earl waited for friends who planned to join her for lunch at The Florian Gardens.

“It’s a good cause, and you can’t beat the food,” said Earl, referring to Feed My People Food Bank’s 19th annual Empty Bowls fundraiser.

For $20, diners could purchase a meal of locally made soup, specialty breads and desserts and a handcrafted bowl. (They also could buy an $8 ticket for the meal alone, and children 10 and younger dined for free.)

More than 2,000 bowls were donated by community members, local artists and students for guests to choose from.

Fran Jordahl of Eau Claire, attending her fifth Empty Bowls, picked out a cream-colored bowl that she planned to use to hold her jewelry.

In her current job at Mayo Clinic Health System and prior job working for Eau Claire County, Jordahl has seen hunger impact clients.

“Hunger is an issue in our community, and (attending the fundraiser) is something I can do to help,” said Jordahl, a behavioral health social worker.

One in nine people living in Feed My People Food Bank’s 14-county service area are food insecure, meaning at times they don’t know where or when they will have their next meal.

Last year, proceeds from sponsors and ticket sales — about $95,000 — helped fill nearly 400,000 empty bowls for local children, families and seniors who struggled to put food on the table, said Emily Moore, Feed My People’s executive director.

“Feed My People has been very blessed,” said the Rev. Paul Oppedahl, a member of the food bank’s board.

Before his volunteer shift started Thursday, Oppedahl enjoyed sampling chicken dumpling, creamy broccoli and tomato basil soups made by different area restaurants.

(Almost all the food for the fundraiser was donated, Moore said.)

“They were all very good,” said Oppedahl as people continued to enter The Florian Gardens to dine in or pick up meals to go.

Another 250 meals had been preordered for delivery, Moore said. “We’re doing more deliveries than we’ve ever done.”

“I think it has just been great how the community has rallied to support Feed My People,” Oppedahl said.

On Sunday, Earl and her friend Deb Anderson took part in the CVASing concert “Come to the Water.” Proceeds from the concert, which featured more than 90 singers and several instrumentalists, benefited Feed My People.

“The cause is what brings me, and the food is what keeps me,” said Anderson, who lives in the Eau Claire County town of Washington, as she met Earl for lunch Thursday.

Believing no one should go hungry, Feed My People Food Bank distributed more than 7.3 million pounds of food to over 125 hunger-relief agencies in 2018, and nearly 70,000 people living in its service area, including 25,000 children, relied on food supplied by the food bank.

“We can’t do it alone,” Moore said.

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