Homeless shelter among goals in Hunger First's new vision

Hunger First Executive Director Michael Gillis speaks with volunteers and individuals who seek help from Hunger First. Gillis would like to see a homeless shelter in Kingsport as part of the nonprofit organization's new vision.

KINGSPORT — Hunger First has grown a lot since it was first opened by Cindy Risk more than 20 years ago. Much of the growth has taken place in the last few years after her unexpected passing.

During that time, Executive Director Michael Gillis has expanded the organization's footprint by renting more space in the building it occupies. He has also started programs to lend a helping hand to individuals who may be struggling.

The expansion has meant the need to raise more funds to keep the nonprofit organization going. Gillis is worried all the emphasis on donations is taking away from the overall goals of Hunger First.

"The last three years we've concentrated so much on trying to raise funds, and maybe we're going about it the wrong way," Gillis said. "Maybe we should just let people see the vision of what we're all about."

So Gillis has introduced a new vision for the organization and is introducing some new goals he hopes to achieve with the help of donors.

One of his first goals is to get a homeless shelter in Kingsport.

"Winter's coming, as Game of Thrones would say," Gillis said. "We've had a pretty harsh summer and we've had some pretty lightweight winters. ... Our vision is to have a shelter here. I don't care who takes credit for it."

Gillis would also like to see a large grocery store where individuals who are struggling with food insecurity could go shopping. He said some people are so ashamed by their current economic situations they do not want to ask for help. He said a grocery store where they could shop without judgment would be beneficial to those Kingsport citizens who fall through the cracks.

Hunger First would also like to have some type of recreational center for Kingsport teenagers. He said he would like to help those teens who may be struggling but are not taken care of through other means.

Gillis admits he lost his focus on the overall vision of Hunger First because he was too focused on gaining donors and how to get people interested in donating. He also said he let the stress of not being able to pay the monthly bills get to him. That stress made him lose focus on the goals of the nonprofit.

But now he is trying to convey the message of Hunger First’s vision and goals to the community.

"The ultimate goal is to obviously be, like many nonprofits, financially independent," he said.