Rhonda Chafin, executive director of the regional food bank serving eight Northeast Tennessee counties, said Wednesday donations are currently down 20 percent over last year. “It is very significant and it obviously affects our programs, our food programs and a lot of other things,” she said.
While food donations, including those received from local food drives and from national food distributors, are down about 300,000 pounds from last year, Chafin said the largest decline the food bank is seeing is in individual contributions.
“We are trying to cut back as much as we can,” Chafin said. “We have gotten some (food) from other food banks that were willing to contribute. We are fortunate our federal commodities have seen an increase. But we still don’t have the food supply we need or the donations we need to access national produce which makes up about a third of the 12 million pounds of food we distribute each year. We have not had to cut that yet. But continued decline will impact our resources to access that.”
Compounding the problem, Chafin said, is a recent notification that food banks in Tennessee should prepare for an increase in need resulting from a 50-day gap in the issuance of Supplement Nutrition Program benefits stemming from the recent government shutdown.
“It is a concern,” Chafin sad. “What this is is a 50-day waiting period for SNAP and we probably will see an influx of people at our our agencies and mobile pantries.
“We’re low on food donations. We’re low on financial donations. It’s a difficult time for us and we are encouraging people if they have not had a chance to give, to give now because I would say is is a desperate time for people who will be on this 50-day SNAP gap.”
Direct delivery food bank programs at risk of impact by the decline include the Second Harvest mobile pantries that serve approximately 700 seniors in low-income housing developments in rural areas who do not have access to a local pantry.
Also at risk is the Food for Kids Backpacks program that provides weekly packages of kid-friendly foods for 4,200 to 4,700 food-insecure students at 137 public schools in the region every weekend.
“We also haven’t raised the funds we need for our food backpacks for kids. We have a funding gap there and it’s a big one,” Chafin said.
Food for Kids Backpacks sponsorships are $100 for one child for an entire school year.
For those who can help, donations to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee may be made by mail to P.O. Box 3327, Johnson City, TN 37602; or online at https://netfoodbank.org.
More information about how to help the food bank may be obtained by calling Second Harvest at 423-279-0430.
If there is a need or a project in your neighborhood the Good Neighbor column can assist with, contact Sue Guinn Legg at 423-722-0538, [email protected] or P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605.