Donation helps rural Hawkins school fight student hunger

Jeff Bobo • Aug 8, 2018 at 9:45 AM

CHURCH HILL — A newly enrolled McPheeters Bend Elementary student whose family was on the verge of homelessness took home three backpacks of food Tuesday thanks to school food pantry contributions from the community and businesses like Food Lion.

Christina Bellamy, McPheeters Bend reading interventionist, and local volunteer Shelia Lumpkins started the school's food pantry last February after recognizing the need. By the time the school year had ended, they had handed out 171 backpacks filled with food for students to take home for the weekend.

Thanks to food contributions brought to the school throughout July and the first week of August, the food pantry program is continuing in the 2018-19 school year.

McPheeters Bend is one of Hawkins County’s smallest schools, located south of Church Hill in the Goshen Valley community.

On the first day of school Monday, 12 students signed up to receive a backpack of food to take home every Friday, and Bellamy said she expects that number to rise as more people become aware of the program.

Among the recipients was a newly enrolled student whose family finds itself in economic dire straights.

"They were almost homeless, and someone from their church gave them a temporary place to stay," Bellamy told the Times News on Tuesday. "The mother happened to ask if we knew of any food pantries that were open in the area. So we loaded them up with three backpacks of food for her to take home today (Tuesday) and she literally cried. And then of course we did, too."

As of the Monday, McPheeters Bend's food pantry shelves weren't bare, but they also weren't stocked well enough to meet the demand for very long.

That is, until Church Hill Food Lion Manager David Derrick and some of his staff members stopped by to deliver a 1,084-pound contribution to the pantry. Bellamy said it was an amazing contribution that caught them off guard.

"We knew they had something in the works, and he (Derrick) called me yesterday (Monday) morning, but we didn't know what they were going to do," Bellamy said. "What they did was a big surprise. (Derrick) called and asked when would be a good time to come down, and I told him any time, so they showed up and had 1,084 pounds of food for our pantry. They brought beef stew, canned pasta, canned fruit, cereal, oatmeal, vegetables, peanut butter, jelly, apple sauce — all kinds of stuff.

With that massive contribution, combined with all the smaller contributions that came in over the summer, Bellamy is anticipating that the pantry's current supply should get them through Thanksgiving, and perhaps longer.

"It just depends on what my need is this year," Bellamy said "There's a huge need. Not just in this area, but all over the county and other counties, I'm sure. We saw that need last year, and we decided to do something about it. We didn't know how well it was going to go or how much support we'd get or if we'd be able to continue to do it. We figured we'd continue to do it as long as we could. We have been blessed with the most giving community, individuals, businesses and people I've never met calling and asking how they can help.

The goal is to continue receiving donations, keep the shelves stocked, meet the demands of the 2018-19 school year and hopefully have enough left over to keep it open one day per week next summer.

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