ALCOA, Tenn. (WATE) — About 45% of households in Blount County are struggling with putting food on the table. Staff with the United Way of Blount County report 12% of the population are living in poverty.

The non-profit is focused on the county’s ALICE(Asset, Limited Income, Constrained, Employed) population. 33% of people in Blount County are classified as ALICE. In fall 2021, 37% of families below the ALICE threshold with kids said they often to do not have enough food.

However, a group volunteers were stepping up Friday to help not just because the day was a Christian holiday.

Food is cooking every Friday inside the kitchen at First Baptist Alcoa’s Family Life Center. A free dinner is served from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

“It’s a hot food ministry as well as a full pantry,” Tom Williamson said.

About a month ago, Williamson opened The Longer Table ministry. His service is becoming a hit.

Steven Chreist said, “We heard about it and we decided to come out here and try it out.”

“Really no questions asked, no judgment. It’s just a free home-cooked, hot meal and we give you a food box to take home with you,” Williamson said.

He and his team are looking to curb Blount County’s food insecurity issues. The former restaurant owner turned mechanic knows how challenging it can be to find your next meal.

Williamson said, “Three and half years ago, me and my daughter through just pure unluckiness, we ended up in a homeless situation. Life was going really good for us then a series of unfortunate events put us in a homeless situation and we had to rely on these programs for survival.”

With inflation hitting record highs, Williamson said it’s a pleasure to serve and a wide variety of people come to his Friday dinners.

“Just struggling, just tring to make it with the cost of gas going up, the cost of food going up, cost of living going up.”

“It used to be about $30 to $40 to buy groceries. Now it’s up to about $75 to buy groceries. Jumped up quite a bit.” Chreist said.

A big part of The Longer Table, is the take-home meal boxes. According to Williamson, it’s a first of its kind in Blount County.

He said, “If you’re in a food-insecure situation, you have to go from Thursday night all the way to Monday night not knowing where your next meal is coming from. And so, if they come in here on Friday, they get a hot meal, and we send them home with a food box to help them get through the rest of the week.”

Williamson does not plan to stop his free meal program anytime soon. He says he will always be there for people that need him.

Staff with United Way of Blount County say more than $97,000 will go to food related non-profits this year including Golden Harvest where The Longer Table receives most of its supplies.

To help The Longer Table cause, call First Baptist Alcoa at (865) 982-2661.