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Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee is an affiliate of the Feeding America Network of Food Banks. It serves the eight-county region incorporating Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties.

We often hear about families that are hungry, that some significant percentage of families in a particular area lack the ability to put food on the table. But how accurate are those reports? How do we know how many are needy?

The data comes from a variety of sources, organizations which provide direct food support to school lunch programs, churches, and many other groups which network to equalize distribution efforts. One such network is Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Another, serving locally, is Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, which has declared September Hunger Action Month.

Second Harvest provides groceries to anyone in need. There’s no preregistration. If your family needs food assistance, you need only contact one of the dozens of food pantries located throughout the region. To find one close to you, visit https://netfoodbank.org/find-a-food-pantry/ for an interactive map. Each family will receive boxes containing up to 100 pounds of food. The boxes will contain meat, fresh produce, dairy, and dry goods.

It’s incredible what Second Harvest accomplishes. Feeding America has determined that 13.1% (66,140 individuals) in Northeast Tennessee are considered food insecure, which roughly means that they often don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That includes some 20,000 children.

But the pandemic has made hunger an ever more pressing problem. It’s estimated that an additional 33,000 people in our region will struggle to find food this fall. Since the start of the pandemic, Second Harvest has seen a 30% increase in the number of people it serves with more 100,000 people in our region seeking food assistance.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee has led the effort to end hunger in Northeast Tennessee since 1986 and is the only food bank serving the eight-county region incorporating Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. Its mission is to feed the hungry in Northeast Tennessee by securing and distributing food and engaging our community in the fight to end hunger through regional partnerships, programs and education.

It’s a massive job. Second Harvest gets food from manufacturers, farmers and food drives, collecting and distributing millions of pounds of food annually to a network of 140 partner agencies including food pantries, but also soup kitchens, shelters and after-school programs. But it also relies on cash donations. Every dollar donated to Second Harvest provides four meals to the hungry.

Hunger Action Month is meant to mobilize the public to take action and illustrate ways folks can get involved, says Second Harvest Executive Director Rhonda Chafin.

“Due to the pandemic, we have seen tremendous numbers of individuals coming and receiving food from Second Harvest, through our distributions with our community agencies,” Chafin said. “People are hurting and these are really uncertain times. Many people I talk to who are receiving food, this is the first time they’ve ever sought assistance to provide for their families,” Chafin said.

How can you help? Visit Second Harvest’s website at https://netfoodbank.org and click on the DONATE NOW button at top right. For more information, call (423) 279-0430.