MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Second Harvest Food Bank is a recipient of an Empowering Health grant through UnitedHealthcare, as part of a $200,000 initiative to expand Fresh Pantry, Senior Outreach and Mobile Pantry programs.

The grant will allow Second Harvest to meet the growing demand for food in East Tennessee that has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On average, the nonprofit distributes 500,000 pounds of food every week which is a 40-50% increase compared to weeks before the pandemic. That includes 8 programs across 18 counties.

To keep up with the demand, Second Harvest’s team is in need of twice the amount of funding they did at this time last year. While the nonprofit organization relies on donations and community support, this grant awarded in July 2020 will help continue the work.

“It hasn’t helped that there’s been a kind of crisis in some of the food industries; we’re not getting what we need. It’s been a vicious circle of craziness,” said Elaine Streno, executive director at Second Harvest Food Bank.

Streno describes the UnitedHealthcare grant as one that “fell from heaven.” She said she places orders for food daily and with the demand growing, she doesn’t see it slowing down anytime soon.

“Where we were a year ago in spending, it’s doubled. The grants have been fantastic, but we need twice as much money as we did last year,” Streno said.

Streno said the team at Second Harvest is grateful for any support through food and financial donations.

In June, 444 volunteers worked 1,373 hours. That donated time provides meals to people in need, Second Harvest reports the donated time saved the organization $9,954.25 in overhead costs.

There is more to be done to keep up with the demand. You can help Second Harvest Food Bank.