As the weather turns cooler, events to celebrate the harvest season are held in cities and towns across the United States. Many feature food. And many benefit the hungry.
On this sunny Saturday, a block of Georgetown, a popular shopping district in Washington DC, is closed to cars but jam-packed with people, eating for a good cause.
"I love eating , I am a big fan of eating. So it does make the food taste a little bit better to know that I am helping someone else while I am eating the food," said Kevin Heinsimer.
He is one of the more than 8,000 people attending the "Taste of Georgetown." The annual event raises money for a local non-profit group that helps the homeless.
James Bracco is the executive director of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, which organizes the festival. “We have got 30 of our best restaurants here in Georgetown showcasing some of their best dishes, and again the proceeds go to the [Georgetown] Ministry Center," he said.
The fundraiser began 18 years ago as a bake sale on the lawn of this church, where, today, local musicians entertain festival-goers. Since Bracco's organization took over seven years ago, the event has grown into a major food festival, raising almost $150,000 for the homeless assistance program. “We think it is a great way for folks to be able to help the Ministry Center and enjoy some great food. I mean, yeah, you could just as easily write a check but it is not as much fun as what you are going to have today," said Bracco.
Jennie Thomas agrees. She brought her fiancé here to celebrate his birthday. “I did some research, he is really into food, to try to find some areas that had either a food event or workshops and we found this. And it is a good cause and we thought, why not, enjoy it," he said.
Food for a good cause is the mission at this event, too. The 300 bowls on display are for sale. The proceeds go to the Capital Area Food Bank, the largest non-profit food distribution center in the Washington area.
Shamia Holloway, its communication manager, said “Guests come in, they select one of the many bowls here for $25, and then they proceed inside and get a symbolic meal of soup and bread. We have many different restaurants that have generously donated soup."
The bowls have also been donated by local artists, galleries and schools. Half of them were made by art gallery owner Jody Walsh and her husband. “I love food, I love food, and I am an artist and I love art, so when you put the two of them together, you end up with Empty Bowls," she said.
Empty Bowls is the name of this fundraiser. And, Holloway says, it symbolizes the plight of the hungry around the nation's capital. “There are over 600,000 people at risk of hunger right here. We witnessed a 25 percent increase in the demand for our services. We have over 700 partner agencies, they are experiencing up from 20 to 100 percent increase in demand. They are seeing new faces, people who have never been to the food bank before are now coming," she said.
Holloway says in the current economic downturn, the food bank needs support from the community more than ever. And that’s what brought Kristen Conte to Empty Bowls. "I believe in the mission. That is the number one thing and I want to help the group. And it sounds like it is going to be a great meal," she said.