Jackson County

Filled with love, bowls of soup help the homeless on the Coast

Students with the Gulfport High School Interact Club serve bowls of soup such as Mary Mahoney’s seafood gumbo and vegetable soup from the Beau Rivage to patrons at the Empty Bowls benefit at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.
Students with the Gulfport High School Interact Club serve bowls of soup such as Mary Mahoney’s seafood gumbo and vegetable soup from the Beau Rivage to patrons at the Empty Bowls benefit at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. jclark@sunherald.com

It started with a collection of handmade bowls Jennifer Sutton once owned.

But like many people on the Coast, Sutton lost her pottery collection during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I had gotten a few bowls at various events to benefit the homeless when I lived in Cincinnati and I would think about the homeless situation as I was eating out of them,” she said.

On Saturday, Sutton, who is now the board secretary for Open Doors Homeless Coalition, an umbrella organization for more than 50 agencies in South Mississippi, helped others expand their own pottery collections for a good cause at the Empty Bowls fundraiser for Open Doors, at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center.

The premise was simple — participants paid $30 for a bowl crafted by a local artist and a lunch featuring soups to put into the bowls. Patrons could sample jambalaya cooked on site by the Biloxi police officers, and beef parsley noodle soup from Pho restaurant. There was also plenty of a Coast favorite — seafood gumbo from Mary Mahoney’s.

Volunteers from the Gulfport High School Interact Club ladled the soup into participants’ bowls.

“We are a volunteer group,” Interact Club sponsor Tammy McKenna said. “We wanted to do something to help with the homeless problem.”

The Empty Bowls benefit was the first fundraiser of its kind for Open Doors.

Open Doors Director Mary Simons said although homelessness is a real problem for some on the Coast, things are getting better.

“There are fewer people living outside than there were last year and we’ve cut the homeless numbers in half since 2007,” she said. “But there are still a tremendous amount of people who are on the edge of homelessness and need some sort of service to stay housed.”

Simons said the issue with homeless veterans in South Mississippi is also being addressed.

“We’ve been able to make some progress with the homeless veterans through some federal grants money that is targeted toward them,” she said. “It’s a broad community collaboration and we’ve been able to house 276 veterans and their families in 2015 and we’re continuing that effort now.”

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