East Tennessee nonprofit honored for work during COVID-19 pandemic


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The coronavirus pandemic has stretched many nonprofit agencies over the last 16 months. For example, the demand for food hit historic highs during the first three months of 2020 and continues to remain high in 2021. Second Harvest Food Bank and the Area Agency on Aging collaborated in bringing food to seniors.

The partnership between them has won a national award. With many seniors stuck inside their homes during the shutdown, a program called Senior Meal Connect expanded tremendously bringing food from Second Harvest to county senior service offices and then directly to people’s doorsteps. The program continues today, but the challenge will be continued funding through federal and state programs to feed the vulnerable.

In Maryville, the state’s new Director of Commission on Aging and Disability, Jim Dunn, got his first tour of Second Harvest Food Bank’s warehouse. Second Harvest leads the effort in East Tennessee to feed the hungry of all ages. However, with the pandemic, the need for sustained funding of delivering meals to older people is critical.

Dunn says, “This particular district produces more meals for our seniors than anyone. So hopefully we can grow on that. I look forward to getting back to Nashville and talk to our folks at headquarters about what we may do to further expand upon it.”

For isolated older adults, the meals they receive from Second Harvest and delivered by volunteers may last them for an entire week. Starting before the pandemic, Senior Meal Connect hand-delivered only 20 boxes three years ago, but now the program expanded to include over 530 boxes per month across 10 counties.

Program coordinator for Area Agency on Aging Denise West says, “Right now with our seniors are at home, they are not comfortable going to the grocery store. A lot of our people have mobility challenges.”

Both fresh and non-perishable food is packed into boxes for delivery to dozens of seniors. Like Vola, a disabled widow whose grandson lives with her. The freshly delivered food through Senior Meal Connect makes a difference. She says, “I can’t work, I can’t stand up to fix my own meals. We eat frozen stuff, soup, or sandwiches.”

As Dunn gathered with legislative leaders, he congratulated the local Area Agency on Aging for its collaboration with Second Harvest in receiving a national honor from the National Association of Area Agency on Aging. The effort to feed the hungry is not over, the demand has not subsided and the commitment remains strong. Continued funding will be the key to keeping those in need fed.

Aaron Bradley, director of Area Agency on Aging of East Tennessee adds, “This is a lifeline for a lot of seniors. One additional thing we are able to do is when volunteers and staff deliver the box, they’re able to get a chance to offer other services.”

“We know there are seniors in every part of our 18 county service area that can’t get out for whatever reason. And if we can do a delivery program it would be such a huge success for what we do. That is to feed the hungry in East Tennessee,” CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank Elaine Streno said.

The Senior Meal Connect Program continues operations in 10 counties around East Tennessee, but soon the program will be expanding into two more counties. As for Second Harvest, it reports the demand for food is up by 10% compared to its numbers prior to the pandemic.

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