Directors of Second Harvest Food Bank Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee and local Walmart managers and associates gathered at the regional food bank in Gray Tuesday to announce a $40,000 donation from the Walmart State Giving Program to expand Second Harvest’s Mobile Food Pantry distribution to people in the area’s underserved areas.
Last year, the Mobile Food Pantry distributed 397,000 pounds of food at 22 sites in Washington, Carter, Unicoi, Johnson, Sullivan, Greene, Hawkins and Hancock counties that are without access to food pantries or charitable feeding programs. Second Harvest Executive Director Rhonda Chafin said the food bank will use the donation to expand the program to 45 distribution sites by the end of 2013 and to increase the amount of food distributed to each household served by the pantry.
Walmart Market Manager John Tunnel said the company was proud to work with Second Harvest to make life better in communities surrounding its stores.
Through its Walmart State Giving Program, the Walmart Foundation provides support to organizations with programs that align with its mission of improving life at the community level and its focus on hunger relief for the record one in six Americans who do not have enough to eat.
According to the food bank, the most recent U.S. Census data shows there are more than 98,000 people in the region below the federal poverty level. Chafin said an extensive gap analysis of the region identifies communities in each of the counties that have a significant number of people below the poverty level who do not have access to retail grocery stores, food pantries, soup kitchens or other resources.
In addition to Walmart’s gift for the mobile pantry, Chafin announced Tuesday that the New Victory Baptist Help Center in Washington County’s Conklin community is one of 12 community-based service agencies nationwide selected to receive a $10,000 donation from Walmart’s recent Twelve Days of Giving Facebook campaign.
The Help Center was chosen from 5,400 nonprofit organizations that entered Walmart’s online competition by posting photos and descriptions of their impact on their communities. New Victory’s director, Jennifer France, said the center will use the $10,000 to purchase food as well back-to-school supplies and clothing for children in need.
The Help Center is one of an estimated 200 pantries and feeding programs in the region served by the food bank and is providing food to 80 to 90 families, or about 300 individuals, each month.
In addition to Walmart’s corporate support for the food bank, Chafin said Walmart stores in Northeast Tennessee donated a total of 1,058,895 pounds of food to Second Harvest last year, making it the food banks’ largest retail donor in the region and earning it the food bank’s Food Donor of the Year Award for 2011.
Chafin said the 2011 award is the third consecutive Local Food Donor of the Year Award the food bank has presented to Walmart and illustrates its long-running support.
On a national level, Chafin said Walmart has been a committed partner to the Feeding America Network of Second Harvest food banks since 2005 and, over a five-year period, has committed $2 billion to support Second Harvest and other charitable organizations through its Fighting Hunger Campaign.
Locally, she said, Walmart’s support is critical to the food bank’s efforts to provide food to an increasing number of people who are in need of food assistance at a time when food donations to the regional food bank are trending downward.
In November, local agencies assisted by the food bank provided food to a record 48,259 people in need, up from 45,862 individuals in November 2010. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the food bank distributed more than eight million pounds of food in the region.
At the same time, Chafin said, food donations to the food bank have been trending downward for the past six months. “We’re trending down and if we continue on that trend, its going to be very critical for us,” she said.