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Local food bank, pantries open during pandemic, but need donations

Holly Viers • Apr 27, 2020 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — While many people are staying at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, volunteers and staff at the local food bank and food pantries are still hard at work to feed those in need.

And while money is tight for many families, these organizations are still in need of donations to continue helping others. The Times News gathered information from several local organizations to see how the virus has impacted their operations.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee

The region’s food bank is serving more people than ever before due to the pandemic, creating a great need for donations. In an emailed newsletter last week, Executive Director Rhonda Chafin said the food bank has increased food distribution by 15%, delivering emergency food boxes to agencies, mobile food pantries, schools and children’s programs.

She added that Second Harvest staff estimate that food assistance during the COVID-19 crisis could increase by more than 30% soon.

“Our agency partners are starting to deplete inventory,” Chafin said in the newsletter, “and people who have not sought food assistance in the past may lack the income to purchase enough food for themselves and their families.”

Monetary donations are most needed and can be made online at netfoodbank.org or by mail to 1020 Jericho Drive, Kingsport, TN 37663.

Kitchen of Hope

The Kitchen of Hope, located inside Full Gospel Mission Church, provides food to the community in the form of hot, ready-to-eat meals served Monday through Saturday. While the organization typically serves 120 free meals a day, the demand has grown to around 200 meals per day since the start of the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Kitchen of Hope board member Dick Basham told the Times News that the Kitchen of Hope was quickly running out of meat due to the increased demand, although vegetables and other items were still available.

“What we really need is meat. We get lots of vegetables from the food bank,” Basham said. “It’s (the donated meat) about dried up to nothing.”

To donate meat, other foods or money or to get more information about the program, call Basham at (423) 963-0970. Checks can be mailed to Kitchen of Hope, P.O. Box 3112, Kingsport, TN 37664.

Hunger First

Hunger First operates a no-questions-asked food pantry for those in need and also serves hot meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Executive Director Michael Gillis said that in the last couple of weeks, he’s seen a surprising decrease in the number of people served.

“Those that had been coming to our pantry have not been coming to our pantry, and I’m under the impression it is because of the stay-at-home order. More people are taking it serious, especially those that get food from us — the elderly and disabled especially,” Gillis said. “However, since Gov. Lee has lifted that as of the end of the month, I foresee a great need.”

Food pantry hours have been reduced to Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The pantry is currently serving one person at a time, but people are still welcome to stop by anytime during operating hours.

Gillis said donations are also down, adding that he hasn’t received any mail in three weeks. Donations can be dropped off or mailed to Hunger First, 829 Myrtle St., Kingsport, TN 37660. Monetary donations can also be made online via its PayPal account, which can be accessed on the Hunger First Facebook page.

Central Baptist Church Food Pantry

Central Baptist Church operates a food pantry every Wednesday from 12:15-1:30 p.m. Coordinator Van Dobbins said that like Hunger First, he’s also observed a decrease in people coming by to pick up food.

Those who seek assistance are asked to bring three items: a valid ID or driver’s license, a current power or water bill and a container to put the food in. Visits are limited to one per month. The pantry distributes some meat, canned goods, bread and other items.

Dobbins added that the church has still been receiving donations of food and money for the pantry, though more are still needed. Donations can be mailed to Central Baptist Church, ATTN: Food Pantry, 301 Carver St., Kingsport, TN 37660.

“Due to health reasons and age and everything else, people are kind of leery of catching the virus, but so far, the Lord’s blessed us with not encountering any of this,” Dobbins said. “We wear masks and gloves and stuff when we’re carrying these items to prevent anything from happening.”

Waverly Road Presbyterian Church Food Pantry

Waverly Road Presbyterian Church operates its food pantry every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. Peter Lodal, food pantry director, said the pantry has seen fewer people the last four weeks, which he believes could be due to the stay-at-home order or a lack of available transportation.

Ordinarily, people can receive assistance from the pantry once per calendar month. Under normal circumstances, the pantry purchases its food bags from Food City; however, as a result of the pandemic, Food City has suspended special orders to keep more inventory in its stores. Because of that, the pantry’s food bags now consist of food from Second Harvest and community donations.

The pantry has also temporarily halted its data collection on visitors due to social distancing guidelines. So visitors may now come more than once per month and receive up to two bags of food per person, if needed.

Donations have decreased since the pandemic began, Lodal added. Checks can be mailed to Waverly Road Presbyterian Church, 1415 Waverly Road, Kingsport, TN 37664, with “food pantry” on the memo line. To arrange a drop-off time for food donations, call (423) 247-5121.

“Even though our numbers are down, I am convinced this is meeting a real need, even if it’s not as broad-based as I thought it would be,” Lodal said. “The people who get the food are generally appreciative, very respectful, and I think we’re continuing to meet a need by doing this.”

To view a full list of food pantries in the Kingsport area, visit feedkingsport.org.

Times News staff writer Rick Wagner contributed to this report.

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