The agency annually distributes about 12 million pounds of food, including more than a million pounds in its mobile food pantry distribution. And it will soon be gearing up for its summer food service meals program which serves 30,000.
But it order to fulfill its mission, Second Harvest needs your help. Right now.
There are 100,000 people living in poverty in Northeast Tennessee including 30,000 children. Census data shows that three counties in Second Harvest's service area are particularly hard hit, including Hancock which has the second highest poverty rate in the state, and Johnson and Greene counties. The agency also serves Carter, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.
Second Harvest secures and distributes food through a variety of programs. An affiliate of the Feeding America Network of Food Banks, Second Harvest is the only food bank serving the entire region. It receives support from manufacturers, farmers, retail food outlets, food drives and personal donations. But it has seen a significant decline in contributions which is putting the food bank’s direct delivery nutrition programs and ability to assist community-based pantries across the region at risk.
Rhonda Chafin, executive director, said donations are currently down 20 percent over last year. “It is very significant and it obviously affects our programs,” 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 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.”
As well, the federal government shutdown created a 50-day gap in issuance of Supplement Nutrition Program benefits and that translates into increased demand from Second Harvest. "We will probably will see an influx of people at our agencies and mobile pantries, but 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 this is a desperate time for people who will be on this 50-day SNAP gap,” said Chafin.
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.