KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — According to 2021 data from Feeding America, 13,600 children in Northeast Tennessee struggle with food insecurity.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee is working to reduce that number through its feeding programs.

Second Harvest Executive Director Rhonda Chafin told News Channel 11 the food bank currently serves 4,500 children through its backpack program, sending meals home for weekends.

“We want to make sure they have access to food,” said Chafin.

Reducing childhood hunger is a goal that puts Second Harvest in partnership with 120 schools across eight counties.

Kingsport City Schools Nutrition Supervisor Jennifer Walker told News Channel 11 that teamwork is critical, as the impact of missed meals is obvious at school.

“We can tell how hungry kids are on Monday after a weekend,” Walker said.

It’s not just students’ ability to focus on school that suffers, Walker said.

“When children are food insecure, they’re going to have higher risk for mental and physical issues such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, anxiety, depression,” Walker said.

In Kingsport, 46% of students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. That’s about on par with a 2023 Vanderbilt poll in which 43.7% of East Tennessee parents reported low or very low food security.

Chafin said Second Harvest only reaches about 10% of the students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, so they’re continuing to raise awareness.

“We really want to close the gap on children,” said Chafin.