DEER LODGE, Tenn. (WATE) — A group of dedicated volunteers from churches in Oak Ridge make the hourlong trip every Friday to far West Morgan County to help out with the Morgan Scott Project.

The Morgan Scott Project not only provides food, but it’s also a place to shop, especially if there’s an emergency need.

The weekly Friday delivery of food arrived at 10:15 a.m.

No time was lost as staff members from the Morgan Scott Project in Deer Lodge began unloading the big box truck from First United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge.

The food is donated by Second Harvest and local grocery stores in Anderson County. Volunteers from several churches in Oak Ridge then pick up the food and deliver it to rural Morgan County

“It’s kind of a group effort between Second Harvest, United Methodist Church and they bring it here to the Morgan Scott Project and we distribute it,” Crystal Tompkins, MSP director, said.  

Without the volunteers, Tompkins said, this program would be impossible.

The pace is fast as boxes filled with fresh produce, bread and sweets are pushed down a hallway. This frantic action is actually organized chaos as the food is sorted and placed into boxes for the customers who wait outside.

Once the food is blessed, delivery is curb-side to dozens of local families who wait outside in the parking lot of the mission. Because of COVID-19 rules, no one is allowed inside.

Morgan and Scott counties have among the highest poverty rates in Tennessee — 20% Morgan and 23% for Scott.  Census records show Tennessee average is 15%.  

The monthly food box from Morgan Scott Project will last a while.

“You get food from every category. So we usually get quite a bit,” recipient Wilda Hall said.

Besides food, the mission offers a thrift store stocked with donated clothing, household items and furniture.

The nearest general store like it — a Dollar General — is 10 miles away, so the thrift shop fills a big need.

Elaine Groom and her niece came looking for a supply of everything. Overnight, Mrs. Groom’s home in Potter’s Chapel burned. The cause is unknown.

Morgan Scott has no restrictions on assisting those with emergency needs.

“They help a lot,” Groom said, gathering linens for restarting her home after the fire.

The nonprofit now in its 48th year fills a big need in this area of East Tennessee where unemployment is high — even before the pandemic.  

So the food handed out helps stretch tight budgets. It’s a cushion to ease the financial burdens for hundreds of people.

“And we’re able to do this program every week. So a lot of our elderly depend on this food. This is their weekly food,” Tompkins said.

The Morgan Scott Project was started in 1972 by a Methodist minister and a Presbyterian clergyman.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there have been some changes.

The bread line has moved outside, but the pace of the mission has not slowed nor has the need.

Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, several grocery store chains in Oak Ridge, volunteers from churches in Oak Ridge, and staff at the Morgan Scott Project are all making a difference in the lives of grateful people.