Bob Aiken, Rhonda Chafin and Matt Wimberley address the media inside the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee's new home Thursday. Ned Jilton II photo.
KINGSPORT — Shrink-wrapped boxes of peanut butter sat on pallets and lined the shelves, which stretched far into the distance.
More pallets with even more boxes of food, stacked three shelves high, could be found throughout the 113,000-square-foot warehouse that Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee now calls home.
Hundreds of officials from all over the region gathered at 1020 Jericho Drive to celebrate the grand opening and ribbon cutting of Second Harvest Food Bank’s new facility.
For Food Bank Executive Director Rhonda Chafin, the opening of the new facility has been a long time coming.
“It’s really a dream come true for our staff, our board, our community, our agencies and our volunteers to be able to have the facility that we need to be able to meet the additional food needs in our area,” she said.
Second Harvest is one of five food bank facilities in the state of Tennessee and the opening of the new center has made it one of the largest food banks in the state, Chafin said.
Second Harvest has been working for the last five years to convert the former Sam’s Club building for their needs.
Feeding America CEO Bob Aiken said the size of the new facility showed just how daunting a task it is to feed the hungry.
“You look at this beautiful new facility and it speaks to the capability of this organization to continue to grow to support the needs of people,” he said. “But it also represents the magnitude of hunger, and the fact that we need a facility this large to feed all the hungry people in this area gives you a sense for the challenge that hunger is, both here and all across America.”
As the ribbon cutting was taking place, a political battle continues to be fought in Congress over the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which issues food stamps to low-income individuals.
Second Harvest advocates have said more food collection would be needed to make up possible SNAP cuts in the next Farm Bill.
The current Farm Bill, which contains nearly $80 billion in SNAP funding in addition to other agriculture assistance, expires at the end of the month. A House proposal would cut about $40 billion from SNAP over a 10-year period, while a Senate plan would trim roughly $4.5 billion.
Congress is scheduled to vote on a one-month Farm Bill extension today.
SNAP serves almost 48 million Americans and about 1.3 million Tennesseans. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., favors the House proposal.
“We have gone from a $38 billion food stamp program in five years to almost an $80 billion food stamp program,” Roe said. “We have an obesity problem in this country, 60-plus percent of the people are at risk or overweight. We have a health issue. ... I want to get this conversation started about how we as a nation eat healthier.”
Chafin said since 2007, there has been a 47 percent increase in food distribution from Second Harvest. She said about 74,000 people are food insecure and more than 100,000 people in Northeast Tennessee live in poverty, so Second Harvest needs to do more and she thinks the new facility will help them accomplish that goal.
Individual donors to Second Harvest were recognized and a check was presented by WCQR to Second Harvest. The check was for $159,000 and represented all of the funds raised for Project Thanksgiving.
Second Harvest Food Bank gave out 8.89 million pounds of food to families and individuals in 2013. Food sent from Second Harvest to various charities and food banks fed more than 40,000 people during the year.
Times-News staff writer Hank Hayes contributed to this report.comments powered by Disqus