The Drive for Hunger Convoy left Bristol Motor Speedway Thursday morning. (Sue Legg)
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, 20 of the 200 community pantries and feeding agencies the food bank assists and three of its largest food contributors lined up their trucks, buses and vans Friday for what turned out to be one of the largest Drive for Food Hunger Convoys in the regional food bank’s history.
Conducted annually to bring awareness of the estimated 74,000 residents of Northeast Tennessee who go without adequate nutrition, the convoy wrapped up a roster of local awareness events conducted during September’s national Hunger Action Month. The event also serves as a kickoff to the local hunger-fighting agencies’ holiday food drive season, and Friday included a plea from the food bank for everyone to support the agencies as winter months approach.
Coming in the wake of last week’s U.S. House vote to cut $39 billion in funding to the federal food stamp program, Friday’s convoy was well-attended by the community-based feeding agencies from across the eight-county region that created what Second Harvest Community Relations Director Kathy Smith said may have been the longest parade of vehicles the event has ever attracted.
Second Harvest Executive Director Rhonda Chafin told the agency representatives gathered outside the colosseum at Bristol Motor Speedway, “You are where the rubber meets the road. You see the face of hunger of every day.”
Then referencing the food stamp reduction now pending in the U.S. Senate, Chafin said, “We need to make a lot a noise.
“The only reason we do this is to make sure people understand the hunger we have right here in Northeast Tennessee, that there are people here who go without food every day, seniors who skip meals.
“We really need to make some noise so that everyone knows there are 150,000 people in poverty in this region. There are 74,000 people who report they do not have enough food for them and their families. We serve 39,000, and there is a large gap.
“We need to make noise to Senators (Lamar) Alexander and (Bob) Corker and Congressman (Phil) Roe not to make this cut to food stamps. And, if not, we are really going to need help.”
With assistance from area law enforcement agencies, the convoy traveled from Bristol through Blountville, Piney Flats, Johnson City and Kingsport, where it ended at Second Harvest’s new facility at 1027 Jericho Drive.
Participants included food bank donors Food City, Kroger and Walmart, and the pantries at East Side Freewill Baptist Church, Food Assist, House of Prayer, Lick Creek Valley Freewill Baptist Church, Adventist Community Services, the Boys & Girls Club of Johnson City/Washington County, Salvation Army, St. Vincent D. Paul at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Harmony Baptist Church, Lifebridge Christian Church, St. Anthony’s Bread, Fire Escape Ministries, Virginia Avenue Methodist Church, Chestnut Grove Union Church, Jubilee Project, St. Paul’s Food Pantry, St. Paul AME Zion Church, Coalition for Kids, Tri-State Children’s Home, Boones Creek United Methodist Church, the Johnson City Housing Authority, Stepping Stone Youth Treatment Center, Comprehensive Community Cares, radio station WTFM-FM and others.