TCAT launches new food pantry to help students

Published 12:10 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2022

By Danielle Morin
Elizabethton Star
The Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton is actively looking for ways to help students succeed aside from the vocational training they receive.
President David Hicks has launched a TCAT Food Pantry on campus to assist students with getting the food they may need or cannot afford while completing their training.
“Students, because they’re here during the day so much for that year or so when they’re working on their education, it can be hard to generate money,” said Hicks. “What this food pantry does is if they’re with us, and they’re struggling to get everything covered, this is just a way to kind of help with that so that they will have access to food.”
The TCAT Elizabethton Campus offers what Hicks calls “an individualized, personal experience” for vocational training in areas like welding, advanced manufacturing, practical nursing, industrial electricity, and HVAC services — to name just a few. “We offer programs where students come in and take a program with us, and then they get placed into a job,” Hicks explained. “Part of our responsibility is to help them get a job when they finish with us in their training.”
The campus, which services around 600 students from across Johnson, Washington, Carter, Sullivan, and Unicoi counties, holds classes Monday-Thursday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hicks says that schedule can make it difficult for students who are “changing their lives” to work enough hours to provide basic necessities — especially food.
“It’s not a catch-all solution, but it is one part of one challenge that some of our students have, so if we can help trying to support them through their challenges then I think it really helps get them to the finish line,” Hicks said, adding, “and also, I think it sends the message to our students that we care about them. We’re not just here providing the training, we want them to know that we are a caring environment, we want to get them to the finish line, and we’re very interested in helping them in any ways that we can.”
Hicks said the school is a vital program to East Tennesseans. “We’re changing lives economically because so many of our students are coming from challenging economic backgrounds,” he said. “But then they’re leaving us and going into jobs that pay really good money.” And the students are not the only ones benefitting. Hicks pointed out, “It helps our community — more people are working, and when families are employed, we know that’s better for children when there’s enough resources in the home.”
And the best part about the program for those students? Hicks says for more than 90% of the students, the courses are completely free of charge thanks to the Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Promise programs as well as the availability of a federal Pell Grant.
Hicks said the program started with a $7,500 grant the school received, which it was able to use to purchase the necessary equipment — such as refrigerators, freezers, and shelving. Once the school had the capability of storing food, the only thing that was left was to actually collect that food. With Mayor Patty Woodby’s help, the Carter County employees ran a food drive for the campus. Between their donations, and those of the Tennessee Board of Regents’ food drive that started in November, Hicks said he has been impressed with the community’s involvement, saying, “We’ve really been overwhelmed by the number of people who have contributed.”
Hicks said that the food bank was just one avenue that the school has implemented to help support its students, but they are always looking for more ways to make the education process easier and more accessible.
“All of those challenges, we can’t fix them all, but as many as we can assist with, the better, and so we’re always looking for ways to try to help.” Hicks said the prospect of providing childcare is next “on our radar,” explaining that the inability to afford childcare is one factor that prevents many adults from starting or going back to school.
Students of TCAT who are interested in receiving assistance from the food bank can contact Hicks or reach out to their instructor or Patricia Henderson, Student Services Coordinator. Hicks said students can receive assistance under complete discretion, which he hopes will help to encourage anyone to ask for help if they need it.
The TCAT Food Bank is always accepting donations of perishable goods. For those interested in donating, they can contact the campus office at 423-543-0070 or email david.hicks@tcatelizabethton.edu. For those interested who cannot make the trip, campus officials are also capable of going to pick up the donations rather than requiring donors to come to them.

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