Rhonda Chafin, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank, during Tuesday's kickoff of the summer food program. All photos by David Grace.
When school lets out for summer, most kids are excited, but for some, summer means worrying about food and where that next meal is going to come from.
Many children in our area will receive that meal from Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. Second Harvest started a summer food service program in 2009. According to the U.S. census, almost 30,000 children in Northeast Tennessee live at or below the poverty line.
"One of our goals is to combat child hunger in Northeast Tennessee and reduce the number of children who go hungry without a nutritional meal," said Rhonda Chafin, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank. "Providing opportunities for children and families to access food is very important for achieving our goal here at Second Harvest food bank."
Tuesday marked the official kickoff of the food bank's summer food program. The program was launched in 2009 thanks in part to a $50,000 donation from ConAgra foods.
Second Harvest expanded the summer food service program in 2012 to include a mobile delivery model called the "Lunch Express." The Lunch Express involves four retired school buses, which have been repurposed as mobile canteens, to deliver food to children in remote areas in surrounding counties.
The kickoff started with a couple of large donations made to Second Harvest for the summer food program.
Walmart donated $65,000 for the children's program and operations through its Walmart Foundation, ConAgra Foods donated $20,000 and Arby's Foundation donated $5,000.
"Walmart always invests back in the community. We always feel like if you give to the community, they're going to give back to you," said Jon Tunnell, marketing manager of Northeast Tennessee Walmart stores. "It's all about the women and children in this area."
The mobile units will deliver to areas in Greene, Carter, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.
Participation in the summer food program has grown steadily since its inception. Last year, Second Harvest provided food for more than 1,600 children each week throughout the summer.
This year, Second Harvest will provide food at 43 sites and all meals will be provided to children for free.
Some of the Sullivan County locales, dates and times are as follows: First Baptist Church, 3359 Highway 126, Blountville, June 2 through June 5, 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.; Girls Inc., 1100 Girls Place, Kingsport, July 21 through July 31, 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.; Bancroft Mobile Home Park, 188 Bancroft Chapel Road, Kingsport, June 2 through July 31, 1:30 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.; Green Meadows Trailer Park, 258 Old Oak Lane, Bluff City, June 2 through July 31, 11:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.
For a complete list of Lunch Express stops throughout the region, click on the document images below.