Second Harvest Food Bank announces new program to feed veterans

Holly Viers • May 14, 2019 at 5:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee is launching a new program to feed food insecure veterans and their families.

The project, called “Veterans Serving Veterans,” was announced during a Tuesday morning press conference at the food bank.

Rather than veterans coming to the food bank for assistance, the new initiative aims to get the food to them through mobile food pantries and partnerships with regional veterans associations.

Recognizing the need

Rhonda Chafin, executive director of Second Harvest, said the food bank has been tracking how many veterans it serves in order to identify and address the need.

“We knew that there were nearly 42,000 veterans in our region, and we also knew, when we started looking at it, that 3,989 veterans fall below the poverty level, according to the census. … That’s 9.5 percent that we know, and so we knew that we needed to do something,” Chafin said.

Phil Robinette, food bank employee and a veteran himself, played a key role in getting the program started by helping to secure funding from local partners.

“A lot of veterans will not ask for help, and it’s important that we help each other,” Robinette said. “But at the same time, I didn’t just want to help veterans. … We want to help the widows; we want to help the children; we want to help the guys that are on active duty.”

Making it happen

Two organizations made financial contributions to get the program started. BAE Systems Inc. donated $5,000 to the initiative, while the Food Lion Charitable Foundation donated $50,000.

“The funds will help us purchase food,” Chafin said. “It will also help us with fuel to transport and other things and expenses that we have to get the food to those veterans that are in need.”

Veterans groups like Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion are working with Second Harvest to identify veterans in need of food assistance. Chafin said the program will begin next month by serving veterans through a mobile food pantry. Later on, Chafin hopes the veterans groups will start food pantries at their locations.

“(The veterans associations are) not only going to help us identify veterans that need assistance, but they’re going to help us. They’re going to provide volunteer support, and for the first three months, we’re going to take our mobiles out in the communities where they are and let them help us distribute food,” Chafin said. “But then eventually, we hope that they will start a pantry at their local post or location so that we can provide them with food and then they’ll have it on hand when they have contact with someone who may need food assistance.”

Moving forward

Chafin said more community partners are needed to make the program a long-term success. Businesses, organizations and individuals can earmark donations specifically for the veterans program and send them to the food bank at 1020 Jericho Drive, Kingsport, TN 37663.

“We will need to have other funders join us to be able to keep this program going,” Chafin said, “and so we’re appealing to our community for contributions for this program so that it’s ongoing and we can provide food boxes for those (veterans) posts that are agreeing to continue this program and host a food pantry.”