Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, its donors and the local feeding agencies they help supply took to the highways Thursday in their 13th annual Drive for Food convoy.
The purpose was to raise awareness of the 38,000 people in the region who come to the agencies each month in need of food, the one in five area residents who live in poverty and the two in five Tennessee children who do not have enough to eat.
“It’s another way to promote awareness of hunger in our area,” said Rhonda Chafin, executive director of the regional food bank.
As big rigs from some of the food bank’s biggest contributors, Food City, Food Lion, Kroger and Walmart, lined up at Bristol Motor Speedway with delivery vans and buses from many of the 200 local pantries and feeding agencies Second Harvest assists.
“We’ve been doing this since 1998 and we believe it is effective,” Chafin said before taking the wheel of the Second Harvest truck at the front of the convoy. “Our agencies are seeing a record number, 38,000 people, who come to them every month for food. We know from our census there are nearly 100,000 people (in the eight-county region) who live in poverty and there are more than 70,000 people who are food insecure,” or at times without food and unsure where their next meal will come from.
Kathy Smith, communications director for the local food bank, said the most recent studies conducted by the national Feeding America food bank network show changes in the economy have resulted in changes in how low-income households use food banks and community pantries to supplement shortfalls in food. Pantries have become a regular component in long-term food strategies and the network of food banks and pantries that was created to help make sure people have access to food during emergencies is regularly used to help fill the gap, Smith said.
Agency representatives lending their support to Thursday’s convoy included Robin Crumley, director of the Boys & Girls Club in Johnson City, who said food from the food bank allows the club to provide “snacks that are more like meals” to 150 children every day after school. “It’s ravioli. It’s pork chops and rice. They like getting it and they eat it,” Crumley said.
With a police escort provided by three area law enforcement agencies and three area mayors and vice mayors there to see them off, the convoy traveled from the raceway in Bristol through Piney Flats, Johnson City and Kingsport to the food bank’s new facility near Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville.
The event wrapped up a month-long roster of local hunger awareness and fundraising events conducted during September’s national Hunger Action Month and also served as a kickoff for the regional food bank’s holiday food drive season.
“Hunger Action Month wraps up (Sunday) but we will continue,” Chafin said. “We don’t have the food we will need for our agencies during the holidays and we encourage the community to hold food drives and to give. Ongoing support is critical to helping us fill the gap. That’s what this convoy is about.”
To help the food bank and community-based agencies meet the increased need for food in the local region, Chafin and Smith asked that “everyone who is able get involved” by organizing a food drive, donating to a food drive or making a monetary donation to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee,127 Dillon Court, Gray, TN 37615.
For more information about how to help, vist www.netfoodbank.org or call the food bank at 477-4053.