KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Almost half of East Tennessee families report that their families are food insecure, according to the 2023 Vanderbilt Child Health Poll.

In Northeast Tennessee, staff at Second Harvest Food Bank spend each day working to get food to the tens of thousands of Northeast Tennesseans who fall into that same category.

“Food insecurity means that a person or their entire family does not have enough food to live a healthy lifestyle or even just live on a regular basis,” Executive Director Rhonda Chafin told News Channel 11.

Chafin said the need in Northeast Tennessee has gotten even more urgent, as food grows more expensive.

“Everybody’s hit with those increased cost of living,” said Chafin. “The elderly, especially, single parents are really faced with additional costs that they, you know, may not have seen before and they were making ends meet. Now they’re unable to do that.”

Second Harvest feeds 45,000 people in the region through its programs, but that doesn’t cover everyone suffering from food insecurity.

“In Northeast Tennessee, we have over 71,000 people who are facing hunger,” Second Harvest Community Relations Manager Edward Breese said. “That’s 71,000 of our neighbors that don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.”

Chafin said the work in Northeast Tennessee is urgent in particular, as rates of hunger are higher than both statewide and national averages.

“It’s just extremely high for our region,” Chafin said. “We want to reduce that number. “

To do that, Second Harvest goes beyond just providing food to people in need.

“If we can help connect them to a federal program or we can connect them to a job or we can connect them to housing or job training, we have hopefully stabilized their lives to where they won’t have to depend on an emergency pantry, soup kitchen or one of our programs,” said Chafin.

Second Harvest of Northeast Tennessee is currently working to raise awareness around issues of hunger as a part of Hunger Action Month.