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F eature Story

Second Harvest Food Bank Of Middle Tennessee Gives New Meaning to “Farm to Table”

By Jenny Cupero
Photo David Cloniger (photo contributed)

W e all know the feeling of hunger—that gnawing rumble signaling to our body it is time to replenish. For most of us, we quickly react by assessing the different options to rid ourselves of the discomfort. Perhaps the solution is leftovers from last night’s dinner, or a hop over to the grocery store for a fresh juice or salad. Regardless of the final decision, we have options. We pick one, we eat, and we move on with our day until the next rumble arrives. While this illustration of modern-day hunting and gathering seems quite obvious and insignificant to most, for 395,770 people in Middle Tennessee, this process could start and end with that gnawing rumble. It could start and end with hunger.

* quote [We have] the additional responsibility to make sure what we are providing is as nutrient-dense as possible...

Unfortunately, 1 in 6 Americans and 1 in 4 children are at risk of hunger. Food insecurity stemming from poverty is a major detriment to wellness and growth and is a very real epidemic affecting hundreds of thousands of people in our own backyard.

Luckily, since 1978, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee has been acting as a white knight to fight this issue in our community. Founded by several committed community leaders, the organization has grown tremendously over the past 36 years, fueled by a passion to connect companies, groups, and individuals with a central distribution center to provide food and resources to the hungry in our area. How exactly does it work? It starts with donations of food, time, or money from local community members, like you. Resources are then collected at their Nashville-based facilities and transferred to partner agencies to be delivered directly to those in need. Believe it or not, a $1 donation provides four meals to the hungry. During its first year, this process resulted in a total distribution of 160,000 pounds of food to 75 member agencies. During the 2013/2014 fiscal year, Second Harvest distributed 28,010,520 pounds of food to over 450 partner agencies, providing more than 23 million meals of food to hungry children, families, and seniors throughout its 46-county service area. This tremendous growth is attributed not only to volunteers and donations, but also to a dynamic staff that makes a collective impact on a segment of our society that often goes unseen. They challenge themselves not only to manage the collection and distribution of food effectively, but also to tackle the root cause of hunger through a variety of programs that offer long-term solutions to poverty and illness.

David Cloniger is one such passionate employee who has been on the Second Harvest staff since 2009. Currently serving as the Food Resource Manager, Cloniger has lead the charge to increase the amount of fresh produce provided to their clients, dramatically shifting the way the food bank operates. “Many people have come to rely on the food bank for a significant portion of their food, which gives us the additional responsibility to make sure what we are providing is as nutrient-dense as possible,” Cloniger explains. The Farm to Food Bank initiative is designed to engage and connect fruit and vegetable farmers, community volunteers, and those struggling with hunger in Middle and West Tennessee to create a more “food-secure” environment in rural and urban areas.

Volunteers rescue, sort, and distribute frozen meat, dairy products, and dry groceries from 198 grocery stories and food donors, including local farms that sell or donate their “seconds” (fresh food either left in the field or graded out in the packing shed due to imperfections).

Through the program, available food has doubled, including a surge of protein-rich products. Fresh produce is now more than 25% of the food Second Harvest distributes, up from less than 1% in 2011. And last year alone, Second Harvest distributed more than 7 million pounds of fresh produce to people in need.

“We are building local food economies by supporting farmers who, in turn, can feed everyone in their community the way they have always wanted to and used to when there were more small farms,” Cloniger says. “We are connecting volunteers with opportunities to participate in producing and distributing food. And most of all, we are ensuring that local food sources throughout Middle and West Tennessee thrive and grow to become more accessible for those in need.”

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee may be a true hero, but what they want you to know is that there are opportunities for us all to be heroes to our neighbors in need.

“Every dollar, every volunteer hour, and every can of food makes a difference. The face of hunger is not one that most people think—it is one that you would recognize. Many of our neighbors who are seeking food assistance have jobs, raise families, work toward education, and struggle with health problems. The face of hunger is hardworking and hopeful. This focus guides our work and makes us realize how powerful a tool food security can be in helping people out of poverty.” For more information on Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and their many programs, visit secondharvestmidtn.org.