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Barton's 'MannaFest' destiny

Chris Dorst
Volunteer Tim Webb (right) and Manna Meal board member Phillip Jones serve a bowl of Yugoslavian fish stew to Martha Wilcox of Charleston at Friday night's Empty Bowls fundraiser for Manna Meal, at St. John's Episcopal Church.
Chris Dorst Karen Simon of Charleston chooses a handmade bowl to take home.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Scores of bowls, individual in their shape and size, adorned tabletops as supporters of Manna Meal Inc., carefully inspected and selected their favorite.

Empty Bowls was held Friday evening at St. John's Episcopal Church as part of the organization's sixth-annual "MannaFest," which also served to honor the late Ruth Barton, one of its most heralded volunteers.

Barton was a longtime volunteer and member of Manna Meal's Board of Directors.

"No one knows how long," said Manna Meal Director Jean Simpson. Organization photos featuring Barton date back to the 1970s.

After Barton died two years ago, Manna Meal wanted to honor her. Empty Bowls seemed like the best way to do so, Simpson said.

"Her heart and soul was the belief that no one should go hungry, no matter what their circumstances," Simpson said.

Empty Bowls is a national initiative to "raise awareness and funds in the fight to end hunger," according to the organization's website.

Simpson said the proceeds from Friday's event will stay in Charleston.

The concept is simple: people donate $25 and take their pick of clay bowls made by pottery students at Taylor Books and Capitol Clay Arts Company. A spread of three soups, salad and bread gave an opportunity, not only for food, but also fellowship.

"It's a wonderful thing," said Nedra Porter, who volunteers at Manna Meal with her husband, Thom. "[Manna Meal feeds] people twice a day. It doesn't matter who you are, what your needs are."

Manna Meal has been in Charleston for 38 years, Simpson said. The organization feeds more than 400 people per day and operates seven days a week.

Thom Porter, who said he had been anticipating the Yugoslavian fish stew that was served Friday, said Charleston is fortunate to have programs like Manna Meal available.

"When you think of food pantries and soup kitchens, you think of homeless people," Thom Porter said, "but it's not that way anymore. Anybody now could be in this situation."

Simpson affirmed the new trend, and said that, while there is a small homeless population in Charleston, the soup kitchen also feeds families and individuals who are on a low or fixed income, as well as those experiencing mental illness.

"They come here to eat because they don't have the ability to make food on their own," Simpson said.

Barton's daughter, Barbie Sadolf, discussed her mother's work as she greeted guests and sold baked goods.

"She was a wonderful cook," Sadolf recalled.

The recipe for Barton's famous chocolate torte -- which is an essential for celebrations, a remedy for illness and a comfort in times of mourning -- was given to everyone who came to her funeral, Sadolf said.

As a mother, Barton was her children's advocate, Sadolf said. As a volunteer, she was great -- always active and engaged in her community, but humble.

"She adopted Charleston as her home and her community," Sadolf said. "It's very touching that Manna Meal has chosen to remember Mom in such an honorable way."

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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