Sevier County Food Ministries see high demand

Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:43 PM

With the tourist industry in its off season and students out of school for several days due to poor road conditions, many families have been struggling lately to put food on their tables. Those factors may be contributing to increased activity at Sevier County Food Ministries, which last week saw its second highest demand ever.

Director Jim Davis said the organization, which provides bags of food each week to people and families in need, gave out 1,908 bags last week. That’s the highest total ever for a non-holiday week, and is second overall only to the 2,056 the ministries handed out for Christmas last year.

On Monday this week, the ministries gave out 617 bags. A few weeks ago, they started the week by giving out 722.

“We’re having some big days,” Davis said. “There was a time not so long ago when a big day was 300.”

The ministries have averaged giving out 1,800 bags over the past few weeks. The amount is unusual, Davis said. “It just shows, my gosh, there’s a lot of people in need right now.”

Local unemployment numbers won’t be available for some time; the most recent figures from the state Department of Workforce and Labor Development indicate the unemployment rate was 7.4 percent last December. That was a slight increase from November, when the rate was 7.1 percent, but an improvement over December of the previous year, when it was eight percent, according to the state’s figures.

Davis doesn’t believe the demand for food has been caused only by the temporary, seasonal drop in jobs.

Many families have had to provide more food because children have been home from school a lot due to the snowy weather this winter, and that’s also caused some employers, such as stores and restaurants, to close on some occasions.

“It’s just a hard time of year, and the weather hasn’t helped,” Davis said.

The extra demand has forced the ministries to keep a close eye on their supplies.

They try to have enough balanced, nutritions meals to feed a family of four for a week. That includes tomato products, cans of vegetables, pasta and canned fruit, among other items.

Finding affordable fresh produce can be difficult for the ministries in the winter. So can making sure enough protein is provided.

“We like to give out protein, but that’s hard to do right now,” Davis said.

The food ministries work with Second Harvest to obtain most of their food, but they also get donations from local businesses and organizations.

Even with that help, the heavy demand is forcing them to carefully consider what they’re giving out. Davis doesn’t expect that to change for at least the next few weeks, until local tourist attractions start seeing more business again.

There’s no danger that the ministries won’t have food to distribute.

“We’ll have to adjust what we can give out,” Davis said.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com