ARM needs help helping others as holidays approach

John Thompson • Updated Aug 21, 2018 at 10:47 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Carter County’s biggest food bank sometimes has to feed a multitude of needy and hungry people while its pantries and coolers are sometimes nearly empty.

It is a familiar problem for ARM, the Assistance and Resource Ministry, 714 W. C St.

“The number of people we help can vary between 625 and 925,” said ARM Director Robbie Fritts. He said in the past, he was able to establish a stockpile of nonperishable food when the numbers dropped to 625 for the month and that stockpile could help get through the times when the agency helped 925 people.

“Our busiest times are always during the holidays,” Fritts said.

Thanksgiving is always a time to draw down the stockpile, but this summer the stockpile is almost gone, leaving Fritts and the other ARM workers and volunteers to wonder about how they are going to meet a growing demand.

Fritts said part of the problem is that several other food banks have opened in recent years in Carter County, and they have taken some of the donations that once were made to ARM. While there are more food banks, there does not seem to be any decrease in the number of people that ARM serves.

Fritts said his agency keeps detailed records of who gets the help. The only requirement is that they have a need and that they reside in Carter County. He said those include 22 military families and other families of veterans. Those families are expected every month, but he said there are also those families in need who had not been part of the calculations. 

“We won’t turn away anyone with a need,” Fritts said.

On Tuesday a woman who had never used ARM before came in the office. She was pregnant and had four young children with her. In such situations, ARM provides emergency boxes of food to the families, drawing from the meager stockpiles.

ARM Assistant Director Leonard Carver showed several nearly empty shelves that were once piled high with food. But the saddest place may have been the potato bin. In the past, families could rely on there always being potatoes in the bin, but on Tuesday afternoon, there were only a couple of potatoes in the bottom of the bin, not enough to make a pot of mashed potatoes for a family of two.

Carver then showed a cooler that usually contains meat and dairy projects. On Tuesday, there was not a piece of meat in the cooler and the only dairy products were several cases of yogurt that were past their expiration dates.

“Wal-Mart usually gives us meat on Tuesday, but they didn’t have any for us today,” Carver said.

ARM was formed in 1991 by the Carter County Ministerial Alliance to serve as a central clearing house at which gifts of food, clothing, and housewares could be made available to Carter County residents who had a need. Since that time, ARM has faithfully served the needs of Carter Countians, sometimes having to stretch the supplies as far as they would stretch.

The workers and volunteers are an efficient team and always ready for the next family, whether that family has been coming for years, or newcomers. They handle emergencies well, but Fritts said the first couple of days of the month, when 20 percent of the month’s distribution is made, can be a challenge. The agency is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

ARM’s volunteers greet clients, enter their information into ARM’s computerized system, load baskets, fold and hang clothing, box food, and complete a dozen other tasks. ARM is always looking for new volunteers, even those who can only give a few hours per month.

ARM is dependent upon the generosity of churches, individuals, and area businesses to supply funds, food, and material goods for the organization’s ministry. Currently, ARM is in great need of financial support and additional volunteers.

Monetary gifts can be sent to: ARM, 714 W. C St., Elizabethton, TN 37643. Another way to donate funds is to go to the website at armfoodpantry.com and click on the donate now button. This is a much quicker way for anyone to donate. Volunteers can check in at 423-542-0919. With the holidays approaching, it is not too soon to help.

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