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Having kids out of school for extended periods can put a strain on food budget

By Paula Walter
February has not been kind to many people across the nation. The bitter cold and snowy weather have caused young and old alike to lose time from work and school. For many children, absence from school means they may not be eating breakfast and lunch. All students in Johnson County’s elementary schools, as well as the middle and high school, receive both free breakfast and lunch, a program implemented at the start of this academic year.
Recently, a group of teachers in Tennessee made sure that their students had food to eat during the snowy and icy weather by delivering bags of food to the children’s homes, much to the relief of their parents. For many families who count on food assistance, having the additional funds on hand to buy extra food when the family is at home because of inclement weather puts a drain on their resources. For some, there simply is no money, no place to cut expenses and the family goes without food.
Many of Johnson County’s own youth depend on the local community center for a meal after school. Mountain City /Johnson County Community Center director, Flo Bellamy, enlists the help of local grocery stores, a limited amount of funds and donations from Johnson Countians to feed the children. Despite the recent inclement weather, the local community center was able to remain open. “If I can get here, we open up,” said Bellamy. According to Bellamy, children who live in the Mountain City area can usually get to the center, but she raised concerns about students who live in the more rural parts of the county who were snowbound. In this current school year, there are 130 children from Johnson County who take part in the Food for Kids Backpack Program, providing ready to eat meals and snacks they receive every other month. When school is out, the kids do not receive the backpacks.
There are 14 sites where Johnson Countians can go to receive food from Second Harvest Food Bank. There are also four mobile food pantry sites in the county for those needing emergency food assistance. “Several food pantries in Johnson County receive and give out food from Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. They do a good job serving to help meet the need for food assistance, but there is always more to do,” stated Rhonda Chafin, Executive Director of Second Harvest Food Drive of Northeast Tennessee. “There are many things people can do to get involved in helping feed the hungry. Hold a food drive or donate to a food drive, make a monetary donation or volunteer at a local food pantry.”  
In January alone, over 36,000 pounds of food were given out in Johnson County, up 4,000 pounds from the average 32,000 pounds per month. To visualize this amount, this equates to nearly 36,000 cans of pinto beans. In 2013 alone, Second Harvest Food Bank provided over 8.8 million pounds of food to the people of northeast Tennessee.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.