‘We want to give more than a meal:’ Volunteers feed prison staff on Giving Tuesday

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MOUNTAIN CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Giving Tuesday was about much more than a barbecue plate lunch for the volunteers who fed two shifts of employees at Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City Tuesday.

“Big Al,” a regular volunteer at the prison for more than a decade, served up food to staff members whose days are often long and stressful, one of the event’s organizers said.

Local prison volunteer “Big Al,” left, looks on as two Northeast Correctional Complex pick up their Giving Tuesday lunches Nov. 30 at the prison in Mountain City, Tenn.

“This is a job that can change people’s lives,” said Genevieve Turner, community engagement officer for Fourth Purpose, a Knoxville-based nonprofit with the goal of helping prisons become places of transformation for inmates.

“You are in contact with people every single day and make a huge difference,” Turner said.

Fourth Purpose teamed up with other prison ministry groups to bring a listening ear and respect to corrections officers and other staff. Turner said despite how crucial they are to any effort to transform the lives of inmates, corrections employees are often overlooked.

“What we’re trying to do is bring awareness to this kind of position, awareness to this job, awareness to the effects of this job and just let people know, ‘we see you, we see what you do, we see how hard you work and this is tough. And we love you through it. We’re here for you.’” 

As men and women streamed into a small room filled with to-go containers, canned sodas and chips, they were met with smiles and conversation from the various volunteers.

“We’re getting security staff through, nursing, medical, counselors and so we’re getting to see a pretty good array of the staff that are here,” Turner said. “I think that the feedback the just small talk, the conversation, just a little check-in, is warming the people who are serving just as much as those who are being served, quite frankly, so it’s been a good day.” 

She said Fourth Purpose is intentionally reaching out to the many different prison ministries hoping to build bridges among the people who live out their passion to volunteer and serve in that difficult environment.

“This is a conglomerate of the people who are already serving in this prison as well as in other prisons around Tennessee,” Turner said.

Fourth Purpose’s Genevieve Turner

“And so our goal is to make sure that all of these ministries when they come in, we’re not just here for one group of people (inmates) we’re here for this place. We want to transform prison.” 

Turner said with a new Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) commissioner taking the reins Wednesday, now is a good time to continue what she called a legacy of outgoing commissioner Tony Parker’s efforts to bring in a positive work environment.

“This is a beautiful time to continue (Parker’s) legacy as to what kind of people do we want to create, what kind of neighbor do we want to have when inmates leave these walls,” Turner said.

“And I think that’s a lot on staff, that they get to see these people in a lot more intimate light than most people do, and so we want to pour into staff so they are filled and can pour into other people. That’s what we’d like to see and that’s our goal with this entire initiative.” 

Tuesday’s stop was Fourth Purpose’s second, and the group hopes to hold similar events at every Tennessee Department of Correction-run facility in the coming weeks.

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