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December News - 'Feeding The Children'

Feeding the Children of Greeneville and Greene County

'Feeding The Children'
By Sarah R. Gregory
The Greeneville Sun, Dec. 24, 2016
All images courtesy of The Greeneville Sun

Many families will have Christmas meals instead of empty pantries this year thanks to the Feeding the Children program.

Hundreds of grocery boxes were given to Greene County residents in need during the program’s winter distribution days on Dec. 16 and 20.

In all, 180 families with 477 children received packages with pantry staples, canned ham and bags of potatoes and oranges for the Christmas holiday.

Volunteers in the McDonald, Midway, Camp Creek, Baileyton and Chuckey communities, as well as Greeneville, worked to package, distribute and deliver the meals in an effort coordinated through the Laughlin Health Care Foundation program, Family Resource Centers for Greene County and Greeneville City schools and individual volunteers and churches.

“We are grateful for all of the churches, donors and volunteers who support ‘Feeding the Children of Greeneville and Greene County’ — it’s an outpouring of love,” said Betty Weemes, executive director of the Laughlin Health Care Foundation. “When awareness is raised to hunger in children, our community is more than eager and willing to help.”

PhotoBill Muhlhahn passes a box of staples to Andy Collins.  Avery Collins is shown to the left.


Feeding the Children was launched in the western portion of Greene County by the Laughlin Health Care Foundation as the Blanche W. Grady Community Service Award distribution for 2012 recipient Jerlee Ottinger.

Though Ottinger died in 2015, the program launched to celebrate her service to others has continued and grown to impact more families.

Feeding the Children helps provide meals for at-risk children during summer and holiday breaks, when families can’t rely on breakfasts and lunches available to kids five days each week while school is in session.

Proceeds from the foundation’s annual Derby Day on Main fundraiser secure staples such as cereal, oatmeal, soup, pasta, rice, vegetables, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and more from Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee.

Those food items are then made available at no charge to families in need.

“We know that families tend to spend an extra $300 on food when kids are on break. Many simply do not have those extra dollars,” said Heidi Davis, Second Harvest’s summer feeding service coordinator. “Providing these grocery items and fresh produce means families won’t have to struggle to find those extra funds during winter break and can spend more time focusing on how they want to celebrate the holidays.”

Photo:  Pallet of potatoes and water to be distributed.


According to the volunteers who make Feeding the Children work, the effort is a labor of love, particularly during the holidays.

“It is truly a blessing to work with many generous volunteers who gather, pack and deliver food for the Feeding the Children program at Christmastime. This is my favorite activity of the season,” said Imy Dobson, a volunteer and retired educator who served as principal of McDonald Elementary School. “The volunteers are filled with joy, love and laughter.”

Those who spend time sorting food items, filling boxes and giving them out — many of whom are teachers — say they’re excited to help.

“The biggest joy came when you could see smiles and hear ’thank you’ from those who received food. Many of the boxes were delivered by the teachers at McDonald School, and they did it with such excitement,” said McDonald community volunteer Rick Wisecarver.

According to Weemes, the Feeding the Children program relies on teachers to help identify kids who need assistance.

“All the families that received the food boxes and expressed how much it meant to them and how thankful they were to get it blessed me,” said Faye Wills, a volunteer who helped with the distribution at Baileyton Elementary School. “As a former teacher in that area, I know first-hand of the great need so many of these families have, and I was so glad to be a part of working with the Laughlin foundation and the Second Harvest Food Bank.”

Schools often serve as distribution sites for the program outside of city limits, while in Greeneville, FRC Director Bill Muhlhahn has coordinated volunteers to deliver items directly to families.

Clubs and churches also play a key role in helping those in need in the communities they serve.

“It’s exciting for the community,” said Bea Brown, who, along with her husband, Allan, was selected as this year’s Blanche W. Grady award recipient. “We are thrilled that children and their families will be taken care of this Christmas season. Our Ruritan Club volunteers are always willing to support a community project.”

Photo:  Bea Brown, Camp Creek Ruritan Club, carries potatoes from the Second Harvest Food Bank truck to be distributed.


Though organizers and volunteers are proud of the work they’ve already done during summer, fall and winter distributions, they know the need will persist and there will be more work to do.

“Greene County tends to average a little bit higher in child hunger,” said Davis.

According to figures from Second Harvest Food Bank, one in four children in Greene County are considered food insecure, meaning it’s unknown when they’ll have their next meal and where it will come from.

That’s why the Laughlin Health Care Foundation has partnered with Second Harvest, which can stretch dollars raised in a way individual donors often cannot. “We are able to get seven meals for every $1,” Davis said. She urged citizens in Greeneville and Greene County to support Feeding the Children by taking part in the foundation’s annual Derby Day on Main fundraiser.

Last May, Derby Day proceeds topped just over $20,000. Those funds provided just under 19,500 meals in the summer food service program, 280 boxed meals at Thanksgiving and food for 180 families for Christmas.

Plans are already being made for the 2017 event, which, like in past years, will be held the first Saturday in May.

Those wishing to contribute to the program prior to that time can do so by contacting the Laughlin Health Care Foundation at 787-5117.

Photo:  Members of the Chuckey Booster Club midget boys basketball team helped distribute food boxes to families.