Empty Bowls overflow for 3 groups that feed needy

By Corey Pride / cpride@losbanosenterprise.comFebruary 15, 2013 

Three groups that feed the poor split $5,360, thanks to the Los Banos Rotary Club.

The Merced County Rescue Mission, Bethel Community Church and The Salvation Army each received $1,786 from Rotary's Empty Bowls fundraiser in December.

"All of the money that people give, none of it stays with Rotary," said Brenda Latham, Rotary Club president. "Today is the good part, where we get to share that money with the organizations."

More than 500 people attended Empty Bowls on Dec. 4. Attendees received a paper bowl filled with soup and an empty ceramic bowl molded by junior high teacher Jim Clarke and painted by the Rotary Club and other volunteers. The ceramic bowl represents the empty bowl of someone in need of food.

Tuesday, Rotarians met with the leaders of the three charities. Each group described how its members help the hungry.

Bruce Metcalf, chief executive officer of the Merced County Rescue Mission, said his group has worked to feed people in Los Banos for years by collaborating with other groups in town. He said in the beginning of December, the Rescue Mission took control of Meals on Wheels and providing food to senior citizens at the Los Banos Community Center.

"We've been excited to participate," Metcalf said. "Since we took it over, the number of meals at the site here in Los Banos has increased by 100 meals per month. We're doing every thing we can to make the program better."

Metcalf said 470 meals are served to seniors at the community center each month.

The Rev. Steve Hammond of Bethel Community Church said he is trying to expand the food pantry at his church from one to two days per week.

"Every Friday we give out 200 hot meals," Hammond said. "(And) we serve anywhere from 100 to 180 people every Friday with food boxes. There's an increasing need in our town. Unemployment is still pretty high in Merced County as a whole, but in Los Banos it's higher than that."

Merced County's unemployment rate was 17.2 percent in January, while the Los Banos rate was 18 percent.

Bonnie Roberts of The Salvation Army said most of the food her group provides is bought at the Merced County Food Bank. She said The Salvation Army hands out food boxes to 320 to 410 families, depending on the time of year. Many of the families are agricultural workers.

"Our busy time is October, November, December, January and a little bit of February. By the end of February, planting has started," Roberts said.

Hammond and Roberts said the money they received will purchase enough food to feed the hungry in Los Banos for a few months.

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