(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
The second annual luncheon took place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church and proceeds went to the Next Step Home, a transitional home for women who want a second chance at life.
Hundreds of locals turned out to support the benefit lunch, and in turn, each supporter received a hot bowl of potato soup, a handmade bowl (crafted by local students) and the satisfaction associated with doing something for a really good cause.
"This is what supports the Next Step Home," said Linda Vannatta, Next Step found and board member. "Without the support of our community it would be hard to keep our doors open ... We're very thankful."
This year marked the second year for the luncheon to take place. Proceeds were shared with Jay Pope's Fresh Start Center, a transitional home for men that's also located in Bedford County.
Students from all area schools helped prepare for Thursday's luncheon.
Some made the trip out to The Webb School in Bell Buckle and sat behind the pottery wheel, working under the expertise of Webb art teacher Sue Wood. Some made posters to promote the event. Others tried their hand in the restaurant business by helping the crew at Legend's Restaurant prepare and serve the potato and cheese soup.
(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
Last May, former Next Step resident Sherry Swing shared her story with the public about how Next Step changed her life. Sexually molested at a young age, Swing rebelled early, and often. Sons were born, one which was lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, another to an accidental gunshot while playing with friends. A 2004 car accident resulted in the amputation of her right leg in 2006.
For Swing, drinking and drug abuse became an easy escape.
"I felt like I had a dark cloud over my head," she told the T-G last spring, explaining she eventually hit a hard rock bottom. "I lost everything I owned. I had a house, land, vehicles. I lost it all to substance abuse and alcoholism."
Swing came to the program after a life which seemed to be shaped by calamity heaped upon tragedy after tragedy. She spent 14 months in the home and reinvented herself through the help of women like Vannatta and the other ladies connected with the home. She followed their spiritual paths, learned how to have a relationship with God. She learned basic and practical life skills that helped smooth out her new life path.
"I had no clue that I could have a one-on-one relationship with God, but I knew I wanted that kind of life forever," she said.
In addition to the Empty Bowls luncheon, the Next Step Home launches another campaign each spring with its Mother's Day card project.
-- Tracy Simmons contributed to this story.