Volunteers for TLC Center program served 72,250 meals in 10 weeks
Published 8:50 am Monday, August 10, 2015
While many people think of summer as a time for vacations and lazy days outdoors, summer does not mean that for everyone.
For some children in the community, along with the break from school summer also comes with the feeling of hunger and the rumblings of an empty belly.
A large group of community volunteers came together this summer to help feed children throughout Carter County as part of the TLC Community Center’s annual Summer Food Program. More than 1,000 volunteers in fact.
“This was our biggest year ever for volunteers,” said Angie Odom, director of the center.
This year marked the 12th year for the annual program, which was created after the TLC Center saw a need in the community.
“In talking with the kids we worked with in the schools, we learned that many of them do not get enough to eat during the summer when school’s out,” Odom said. Many children in the community get the bulk of their meals through the school cafeterias during the school year, but when school is out the families struggle to replace those lost meals, Odom said.
Each year the program has grown, Odom said, adding this year an average of 425 children were fed each day. The program delivers meals to children at different sites throughout Carter County and each child receives a hot dinner meal as well as a bagged breakfast and lunch for the following day.
This year, the program served 72,250 meals to children over the 10 week program. Volunteers also delivered 2,688 boxes of non-perishable food to families in the community.
The program would not be successful without the volunteers that keep it going, Odom said. The volunteers help prepare, package and deliver the food, and this year, they even helped grow it.
This year marked the first time the TLC Center raised a garden, which allowed them to use fresh, home-grown vegetables in the children’s meals for the first time. The garden was planted, tended and harvested by volunteers.
“What is really impressive is how many of the volunteers were under the age of 18,” Odom said. “We really could not operate this program without the teens.”
The teenagers who volunteered came from local church youth groups, some from county schools, some from the East Tennessee Christian Home and Academy and from teens taking part in summer camps at Doe River Gorge Ministries.
“I think there is a lot of negative things being focused on with youth and here are a lot of teenagers doing something positive,” Odom said. “They could have been laying by a pool or at home watching TV but they chose to be here helping feed other kids in the community.”
In addition to the youth helping with the program, a number of adults volunteered as well, Odom said.
Some volunteers often would drop in unannounced to lend a hand while others organized groups of friends, family or church members and came in to volunteer together.
While the main focus is on feeding children and families, the volunteers also look to help others whenever they can, Odom.
As volunteers delivered food through the community, they met a family with three small children. One of the youngsters is a child facing some severe medical conditions. The family had no air conditioning in their home, which was making the child’s health issues worse. Volunteers in the program got together and not only donated a window air conditioning unit to the family, they also collected money to help the family cover the travel expenses of taking their child to Vanderbilt Hospital for his treatments, Odom said.