Someone you know goes to bed hungry
Published 8:42 am Thursday, April 30, 2015
Hunger is definitely not a game in Carter County, and chances are there are more people around you than you realize who are struggling to put food on the table for themselves and their families.
One out of every eight Carter Countians go to bed every night either hungry or food-deprived, according to a report from Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. That means someone in your church, a co-worker, a neighbor, one of your child’s classmates, even someone in your family may not have enough to eat.
While 14.8 percent of the region’s population is considered food insecure and is at risk of hunger, Second Harvest’s numbers indicate the number of those who are hungry are much higher in Carter County. Here, they say an estimated 8,720 residents are food insecure — nearly 15.5 percent of the total population.
About one-third of these people are not income-eligible for federal nutrition programs, so they rely more on food pantries and organizations such as Hale Commnity Ministries and Assistance Resource Ministry for access to healthy, nutritious food.
While many of the area’s residents may not know about the large number of people in Carter County who need help, Second Harvest is well aware of the problem. Last year, the organization distributed 2,080,619 pounds of foods to the agencies it serves in Carter County, equating to 1,727,915 meals.
Those numbers are continuing to increase says Rhonda Chaffin, the organization’s executive director.
“Since 2007, Second Harvest has seen a 56 percent increase in the number of households requiring emergency food assistance,” said Chafin. Second Harvest is the only food bank serving the eight-county region of Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington. Over 200 regional non-profit or faith-based organizations also rely on Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee for their food needs. This is in addition to agencies such as Food for the Multitude in Elizabethton and a number of church pantries where food is supplied by church members.
Food for the Multitude serves more than 250 families each Saturday with a home-cooked meal. Food for these meals is provided by participating churches.
The Adventist Community Services SDA Church in Roan Mountain is among those agencies in Carter County receiving and distributing food from Second Harvest Food Bank.
“We distribute once a month and serve about 150 people regularly,” said Teresa Stout, director of those services. “Pretty much, it is the same people who come each month. We do serve a lot of widows and grandmothers raising their grandchildren.
“The elderly population is at a high risk of being hungry and having food insecurity because of inadequate income and the aging process,” she said.
Canned vegetables and fruits, some type of meat, boxed dinners such as pasta, spaghetti and au gratin potatoes, a variety of cereals and mixes are among the food items distributed by the Seventh Day Adventist Church group.
“Our clients sign up at the first of each year and must present proof of income,” she said.
In addition to the monthly food distribution, the church, located on Heaton Creek, also has a thrift store which is open two days every week.
In Elizabethton, Phillippi Baptist Church distributes food on a regular basis at its church site. The church partners with Second Harvest Food Bank to provide a food box each Wednesday with perishable items such as fresh produce, bread, milk, and eggs, a service that was added in 2011. Supermarkets and other retailers provide much of this food, food that is still good but nearing its expiration date or too ripe to sell in the grocery store.
“There is frequently a line around the block waiting for these items,” said Sonya Price, who directs the program at Phillippi Baptist. The group normally assembles 60 bags of fresh food to distribute; they are usually gone within 20 minutes of opening.
“We are seeing more and more new people,” Price said.
The church also has a food pantry and provides a monthly food box filled with items such as canned vegetables and fruits, beans, rice, cereal, pasta and snack cakes.
In addition to Phillippi, the First United Methodist Food Pantry has been feeding the needy through Second Harvest Food Bank and donations from church members since 2011.
Lanelle Crockett, chairman of the church’s food pantry, wrote in a recent church newsletter, “We have come to know one another better as we work side by side. And, we have even better come to know our neighbors, to know their struggles.”
The mobile pantry serves around 75 families each month.
Once a month Second Harvest workers load up the food bank’s mobile pantry with fruits and vegetables, milk, baked goods, and canned food and make stops not only at First United Methodist, but at Valley Forge Free Will Baptist Church. They do so because many people can’t get to a soup kitchen or pantry, so the food bank increasingly brings food to them.
Most of the people who pick up food at the First U-M mobile food pantry are grateful for whatever help they can get.
On the day of the mobile food pantry’s visit, men and women line up in the church’s parking lot, holding boxes and plastic laundry baskets to carry their food home.
“If you have to spend money on groceries, then you don’t have the money to pay the electric bill, or the house rent,” said one person who was being served by the pantry.
Church volunteers also made roughly 3,850 peanut butter sandwiches last summer to serve for the lunch program at the TLC Center. During June and July, they made an average of 325 sandwiches each Monday morning.
A number of other churches have food pantries, including East Side Free Will Baptist and First Christian Church.
A report by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee shows that the number of clients it serves annally includes 22,359 children and 11,072 seniors over the age of 60. Many of its clients struggle with health issues, with 69 percent saying they must choose between paying for food and paying for utilities; 77 percent report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine and medical care; 48 percent report choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.
A number of factors are attributed to the large and growing number of hungry people in our county, reports Brenda Davidson, chairperson of Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. One is the number of single-parent households. Births to unmarried females in 2013 totaled 222 in Carter County, accounting for 44.3 percent of all the births in the county.
Other reasons for the growing hunger issue include low-paying jobs and drug and alcohol abuse, according to Davidson.
The per capita personal income for Carter County residents in 2013 was $30,544, which is money that must be budgeted for housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, medical and food expenses. If the family owns their home, taxes and insurance must be included in that total.
The Commission on Children and Youth also reported 1,574 children in Carter County participated in the WIC program. Also, 4,027 children received SNAP (food stamps) benefits, a number that has grown every year since 2010. Participants in SNAP from Carter County totaled 12,791 — 22.3 percent of the population.
The slow recovery from the 2008 recession and cuts in the government’s anti-hunger programs are also contributing factors to the number of people requiring food assistance in the county, putting more and more children and seniors at risk.
“If you don’t believe that we have hungry people in Elizabethton, you just need to come by Phillippi Baptist Church every Wednesday,” said Sandra Davis, a member of the church who helps with their food programs.
“It’ll make a believer out of you.
“They are good people, and many of them go to jobs every day,” she said. “They just need a little help when it comes to putting food on the table.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part I of an occasional series about the pervasiveness of hunger in the communities of Carter County.