Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee celebrated Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service with a special recognition ceremony for volunteers who serve the food bank year round. Also, three supporters, who together won $150,000 to expand its Food for Kids backpack program for chronically hungry school children, were honored.
The food bank’s Day of Service activities also included a volunteer led food drive at grocery stores across the Tri-Cities and volunteer activities at the food bank for a small group of federal employees who came to serve and brought their children.
Adam Dickson, volunteer coordinator for Second Harvest, said the National Day of Service was an appropriate time to recognize the food bank’s more than two dozen “Harvester Volunteers” who work at the food bank every week, many of them two or three times a week, and many of them for many years.
“We appreciate that and I want to make sure everybody knows,” Rhonda Chafin, the food bank’s executive director, said.
Second Harvest also honored Mike Chandler of Johnson City, Sherry Foxx of Elizabethton and Julia Kodak of Roan Mountain, who last fall each won $50,000 Golden Sparks grants from Walmart Foundation to expand the food bank’s Food for Kids backpack program in Washington and Carter County schools.
The online campaign invited visitors to the Walmart web page to vote for an agency working to ease child hunger in their community to receive one of 40 Golden Sparks grants awarded. “We hoped we could win just one,” Chaffin said. “But today we are recognizing three winners ... who wanted to make sure our Food of Kids program had enough to help kids in Northeast Tennessee who do not have enough food to eat at home.”
The Food for Kids project provides take home packages of kid friendly entrees and snacks to 4,300 schoolchildren in the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee every other Friday afternoon throughout the school year. Chafin said the program serves only those children who are identified by their schools as “chronically hungry,” or exhibiting symptoms of not receiving sufficient nutrition when school is not in session. The three Golden Spark grants will be used to expand the program over a three-year period and this school year allowed 235 children in Carter County, Johnson City and Washington County schools be removed from their schools’ waiting lists and included in the backpack distribution.
“Programs like this make a difference and it did because three people took their time to volunteer to click their mouse,” Chafin said.
In establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a national day of service, Dickson said Congress decreed the King holiday should be observed as “a day on, not a day off” as part of the United We Serve initiative that calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems.
Most of those who answered that call by calling the food bank to serve on Monday were deployed to grocery stores across the Tri-Cities to pass out Second Harvest flyers and to encourage shoppers to give. “This is a way for us to engage the community,” Chafin said. “Hopefully it will encourage people to donate food, to make monetary donations and to make longterm gifts which is what we need.”
For a small group of federal workers from the Social Security office and their children, the food bank was the place to serve on Monday. “A lot of organizations were open today and we’re off. And for our children, it’s a chance to see, not just picking up cans and dropping them off, but where the food goes,” Patty Wessner with the Social Security office said as she and her son Lewis worked in the Second Harvest warehouse.
The food drive collection barrels will remain for the next two to three days near the entrances of Walmart stores in Johnson City, Kingsport, Bristol, Elizabethton and Unicoi; IGA stores in Erwin, Johnson City and Kingsport; and Priceless sores in Johnson City and Kingsport.
For more information about Second Harvest and how to help, visit www.netfoodbank.org or call the food bank at 477-4053.