COCKE COUNTY—A food distribution was recently held at Cocke County High School as part of the Farmers to Families Food Box Pickup.
The distribution was made possible through the USDA in partnership with Save the Children (STC).
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there have been multiple rounds of the Farmers to Families programs awarded to vendors across the country.
Cocke County was included in the food box distribution in October.
At that time, the food boxes were distributed directly to families at school sites throughout the county.
The county received three full truck loads (3,888 boxes) per week. One truck went to Cosby, Smoky Mountain, Grassy Fork, and Del Rio, while another truck went to Edgemont, Northwest, Bridgeport and Centerview.
A full truck load of food boxes was distributed at CCHS on Fridays.
Although every effort was made by Save the Children, Cocke County has not been included in distribution cycles between October and now.
That changed on Friday, February 12, as more than 1,200 food boxes filled with fresh produce, meat and dairy items were dispersed to families.
Kathy Holt, Senior Specialist with Save the Children, said the need in Cocke County is evident. She was thankful for the food items the county was able to acquire.
“From the turn out on Friday, it is obvious that there is a lot of need in our county. We realize there is more need than the one truck load we received could cover,” Holt said.
“However, there is a lot to be thankful for – 1296 boxes of food to be exact. In January, it seemed very unlikely that we would receive any food boxes. We are very grateful for the diligence and persistence of Chapple Osborne-Arnold, Tennessee Deputy Director of STC, in getting the food boxes brought to Cocke County.”
Representatives from several communities picked up food boxes to distribute around the county to those who did not have transportation for the event.
This community-based partnership platform is part of a broader infrastructure that is being developed to support food insecurity in Cocke County.
There are several churches and organizations that already do extensive work in the area of food distribution.
“We recognize that transportation is a major barrier for many families who live in our most remote areas. It was wonderful in October when families could go to the nearest school and get a food box. This greatly increased families access to this high-quality, free food source,” Holt said.
“Since this wasn’t possible during this new cycle, partners from each of the remote communities were identified to help address this need. These leaders have agreed to take on the work of getting boxes to their individual communities. These community based partnerships ensured that food boxes would be distributed to families in their communities who otherwise would not have been able to come to Cocke County High School to pick up a box.”
In November, a working group was organized as part of the collective impact work of the Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition (formerly Rural Accelerator Initiative) to help develop this infrastructure, identify gaps in resources that are available to ensure that families have enough food, and to support increasing food access in the community.
Dozens of volunteers from various organizations came together to make the most recent distribution a success.
Holt was joined by school system employees Casey Kelley, Diana Samples, David Darnell, Benton Hurst and James Grooms. Kiwanis Club members Claude Gatlin, Kevin Fine, Dave Johnson, Jackie Stewart, Marvin Stewart, Sherry Starnes and Gary Ridens also participated in the distribution.
Members of Lincoln Avenue Baptist and Crossroads Church pitched in, and those individuals included Josh Gerber, Phil Yelton, April and Darren Wines, Val Schaeffer, Terri and Lynn Bowerman, and Jerry Newman.
The distribution would not have been possible without the assistance of several School Resources Officers. SROs participating in the distribution included Danny Lee Hartsell, Dan Williams and Teresa Maples. School Security Guards Ron Harwood and Katie Williams also assisted.
Each recipient of a food box was also given a flyer featuring healthy meal options they could prepare with the items in their box. The healthy eating guide was provided by Stephanie Maples from the UT Extension Office.
Future food distributions may be possible, but dates have not been set.
Updated information can be found at cockecountyschools.org.