​Grundy County Food Bank: Need without Shame

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Weekly, the Grundy County Food Bank (GCFB) provides free food to 60 families, averaging three to four family members. To qualify to receive food, a family must fall below a certain income level.
“SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and food stamp recipients are a shoo in,” said Director of Operations Tim Glover.
But some people who qualify for food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), don’t apply for benefits and come to the food bank for help instead. These prospective clients undergo a thorough income vetting process just like at a government office. Why would people in need decline food stamps and seek help from the food bank?
“There’s a stigma associated with food stamps,” said Board President Jennifer Thompson. “Everyone knows your business. You need to show your SNAP/EBT card at the grocery. Here, clients see the same friendly familiar faces each visit. The food stamp program is government run. The food bank is people oriented.”
The Grundy County Food Bank distribution mechanism goes a step further to bolster clients’ independence and self-esteem by offering them a choice. Most food distribution and food bank operations provide clients with a pre-selected box of food. At the GCFB clients proceed from station to station, produce, meat, canned goods, bread, etc., choosing what they want within limits dictated by family size.
“When clients get to choose foods they like, they’ll use them instead of throwing them away,” Thompson pointed out.
“Some weeks there’s no meat, though,” said Glover, “or no bread.”
“People want more fresh vegetables and canned goods,” Thompson stressed. “The first 20 or so clients might get nice vegetables, but for the last 20 or 30 people, the good quality produce is gone.”
The food bank relies on three primary sources for food: USDA free food picked up at the Chattanooga Food Bank hub; food purchased from the Chattanooga Food Bank; and free food from the Kimball WalMart in conjunction with the Feed America program.
The USDA allotment is need based. “We didn’t get enough from the USDA this year,” Glover said. The GCFB makes up the difference by using its meager $50,000 annual budget to buy food.
While the food bank welcomes all donations, cash donations are preferred. A dollar spent at the Chattanooga Food Bank goes six times as far as a dollar spent at a local grocery by a well-meaning donor.
“We want to spend our money on food,” Thompson said, but there are many other needs and expenses.
Most of the food received from WalMart is near expiration and perishable. The food bank’s “old broken down” refrigerated truck travels 1,000 miles per month picking up food. Transporting food in a cooler in personal vehicle isn’t allowed, according to Thompson.
Housed in a former grocery store at 861 Main St., in Tracy City, the GCFB has two walk-in freezers, eight free-standing freezers, and a walk-in cooler. The building, however, isn’t sound. The roof leaks and the floor is rotting in places. The food bank has used the building rent-free for several years, “but the owner wants us to move on,” Glover said.
Soon homeless, the nonprofit is investigating grant and funding options. “There are no grants for food,” Thompson said.
Clients are exceedingly grateful, she insisted. “They ask how they can help. They wash windows or make a small cash donation of two or three dollars.” Many clients are elderly and caring for grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
Locality limits donations from corporate sponsors, Thompson said. “There are no big groceries and big factories within a 50 mile radius. Corporations want to give-back to the local area first.”
It takes 200-volunteer hours per month to keep the food bank in operation. “People fill in as necessary,” said volunteer bookkeeper Greg Magavero, whether mopping the floor, overseeing the selection stations, or supervising computer check-in of clients.
Given the limited resources, clients can only visit once a month with a family of four receiving 80-100 pounds of food—not nearly enough. Folks wanting to help can mail cash donations to 861 Main St., Tracy City, TN 37387 or contribute online via the GCFB Facebook page or website <grundyfoodbank.wordpress.com>. The AmazonSmile program, another donation venue, contributes a percentage of each purchase to the food bank. The food bank also welcomes donations of fresh produce from local farmers. To volunteer, phone (931) 592-3631 or stop by for a visit during distribution hours, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. every Tuesday.
The food bank has several fundraisers coming up: a haunted house at the Tracy City location, every Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5–Nov. 3, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.; a concert with headliner Confederate Railroad at the Stage in Monteagle, 6 p.m., Oct. 5; and a hike for hunger later in the fall.
The food bank is the rare entity that would welcome being obsolete. Five years down the road, Thompson’s wish list is for “food stocked floor to ceiling and fewer people lined up at the door because the need has decreased.”