KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — When it comes to providing nourishment for the food insecure, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic since day one.
The food bank reports food insecurity in the region is at an all-time high, and so is the amount of people asking them for help.
“Over the past 14 months, we have not missed a day,” said executive director Rhonda Chafin.
Since March of 2020, Second Harvest has distributed 14 million pounds of food. In fact, data shows their distribution rates are up 112% since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The need is here to stay,” said Chafin. “We saw a 23% increase in food insecurity in our region and we are still seeing that now.”
As the effects of job loss and the economic downturn linger, Chafin says the need will only grow this year.
“We have to keep this warehouse full every day. We are moving that food as fast as it comes in,” said Chafin.
Many local families know first-hand the impact of Second Harvest.
“There was one point where we worked six jobs between the two of us, I had three, he had three. Even with all that, it was still not enough,” said Jessica Beare Edmunds.
She, her husband and two young daughters received monthly supplies of food from Second Harvest from 2012 to 2015.
Not having to worry about how to put food on the table meant the Edmunds family could get back on track. But as the working poor, they felt they were overlooked by the system.
“We were those people in the gap. We don’t make enough for public assistance, but we don’t make enough to make ends meet,” said Beare Edmunds.
In the three years the Edmunds family relied on Second Harvest, they never felt looked down upon. But, taking that first step was the hardest part.
“Set your pride aside and get the help that you need. Just because you need help today does not mean you will need help forever. We are proof of that,” she added.
Now, the family gives back to the organization that once helped them.
Second Harvest says the pandemic has opened many people’s eyes.
“It’s hit home to all of us that we could be without food at any time,” said Chafin.
With over 3 million pounds of food in the warehouse ready for distribution, Second Harvest knows its mission to end hunger is far from over.
“People are counting on us. We have to do more,” said Chafin.
The food bank is asking the community to help them keep food on their shelves so they can continue to supply it to those in need, and the 140 agencies and 13 school districts that rely on them for food.
Food supply from the USDA and TEMA will only last for a few more months.
Second Harvest serves the Northeast Tennessee counties of Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.