Tom Herb can pack 120 bags of food a day -- that's enough to fill 24 boxes to send to schools to feed children in Northeastern Tennessee. "A can of chicken noodle soup, a container of milk," Herb describes as he packs one of the bags. "We have three tables set up; this one, that one and there is another over there."
Herb is one of approximately 10,000 volunteers who donate their time to the Food for Kids Backpack Program. The program is run by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee and is a national initiative to feed hungry children. Second Harvest reaches kids in 120 schools within an eight-county area.
The program gives hungry children a bag of food to take home over the weekend. The bags contain milk, cereal, pudding, granola bars and canned meals. The packs are for students eligible for free breakfast and lunch at school according to Rhonda Chafin, executive director of Second Harvest.
"They go home at night and weekends and they might not know when their next meal is," said Chafin.
The food bank delivers the bags to schools where teachers distribute them discreetly to students. "We really believe that children are our future and they need nourishment to learn and stay in school," Chafin said.
There are 29,000 children eligible for the program in Northeast Tennessee, said Chafin. The program only provides food for about 4,300 of those kids. "There are additional children that really need help with food assistance," she said.
Volunteer Tom Herb agrees. "Hunger is a growth industry and I don’t care how much we can do here, it’s never going to be enough," said Herb.
The food bank is trying to get more sponsors to donate money in order to expand the program. "It’s really been quite a burden on the organization operationally. We don't have all of the sponsorships in place so we're using operational money," Chafin said.
It costs $93 to feed one student for the whole year. That student will receive 15 bags throughout the school year.
For more information on how you can sponsor a child or volunteer for the Food for Kids program, click here or call (423) 477-4053.