Feeding America Chief Executive Officer Claire Babineaux-Fontenot met with staff at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank on Tuesday as part of a regional tour of member food banks. Feeding America is the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, and the Chattanooga Area Food Bank is one of just 200 members in the organization. Ms. Babineau-Fontenot spent most of her visit touring the Chattanooga warehouse to hear first-hand experiences from staff and volunteers about how they have responded to the need for food caused by the pandemic.
“Like most food banks across the country, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank has been hit hard by increased need, disruptions to our supply chain, and decreases in charitable food donations, but has worked hard to develop innovative solutions to serve those who need it most,” Ms. Babineaux-Fontenot said. “However, it would be nearly impossible to respond to this crisis without the generous donations from the Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia community. Thank you to everyone who shared their gifts; these contributions provide nourishing help for people who may otherwise be unable to put food on the table.”
As a Feeding America member food bank, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and its more than 200 nonprofit partner agencies have access to information and resources to address hunger in its 20-county service area. Through Feeding America, since the beginning of the pandemic, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank has received 90,300 donated pounds of food, $622,336 in funding, and research that indicates the economic impact of the pandemic could affect up to one in five adults and one in four children in its service area. Feeding America has also led a national awareness and advocacy campaign to draw attention to the increased risk for hunger, especially at-risk populations like children, people of color and seniors.
“Feeding America provides essential guidance as we continue to respond to COVID-19’s impact on our community and the increased risk for hunger it caused,” said Chattanooga Area Food Bank Interim President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Hilling. “Even before the threat of the pandemic, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, our agencies and the people we serve have benefited tremendously from Feeding America’s support, and that helped us to be in a strong position to respond to the crisis.”
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank put in place a number of expanded and new programs to respond to the initial 30 percent increase in need and prepare to provide long-term assistance for months or years to come:
As a receiving agency for the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, it has coordinated the distribution of an additional 800,000 pounds of food over the last two months through a number of area organizations.
With La Paz and CEMPA, we are distributing food boxes at certain COVID-19 testing sites that serve the Latinx community; although six percent of the Hamilton County population is Hispanic, they make up 60 percent of diagnosed cases, according to the Hamilton County Health Department, representing one of the most severe local health disparities.
It expanded the Mobile Pantry Program in all 20 counties served by adding new sites and increased the amount of food distributed at existing ones, and doubled the amount of pounds distributed in May as compared to the same time last year.
It tripled the capacity of Emergency Food Box Program in Hamilton County (in collaboration with United Way Chattanooga’s 211 service). Working with CARTA and St. Alexius Outreach Ministries, boxes are being delivered to people who are homebound.
Its Summer Feeding Program began two months early for 10 rural schools including six new sites through the end of July; the program distributes seven to 10 pound bags with staple items and fresh produce to help feed an entire family.