For the Child Without Food

by Ben Bumgarner

“Food deserts are a place where people do not have access to healthy and nutritious food within 10 miles of where they live,” says Ms. Jennifer Fritts, the head of communications and marketing for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. “Think about the difference between going into a convenience store and a Publix to get you dinner for tonight. So at Publix you have this wide variety of healthy food and at a convenience store you don’t.” There are close to 30,000 people who live in a food desert in the Chattanooga area. The food bank packs and serves over 25,000 individual meals each week. The Chattanooga Area Food Bank is a 40,000 square foot warehouse with stacks and stacks of food for the needy. Ms. Fritts’ job is to spread awareness so they can continue to get donations. The website reads, “If we didn't get another drop of food in, it would all be gone in 60 days.” Some of the largest donors to the Chattanooga Area Food bank are large retail stores, the government, and Amazon.

   

What causes the problem? Is it just a bunch of individuals who just don’t want to work so they get let off easy by the generosity of the food bank? It seems that people don't know that some everyday people have to depend on the food bank. “This is something most people don't understand. 90% of people that we serve have a high school diploma, 80% of them have a full time job,” Ms. Fritts said. “The people that we serve are people who just can't stretch their paycheck over bills, kids, and food.” People this year especially with COVID 19 have been put out of work. According to Richard Felix, “The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown caused 114 million people to lose their jobs in 2020." With this extra loss of jobs the food bank has had to work even harder to be able to provide for so many families. 

Even before COVID there has been a huge food desert in Chattanooga. Ms. Fritts says, “There are two main reasons for food insecurity in Chattanooga. One is poverty and the other is no access. For someone without a job or a vehicle they cannot make it to Publix or to the Walmart neighborhood market.” Even if these people had enough money for food, there are no healthy grocery stores nearby; they just don't have anywhere to go. People that can afford food are not getting enough healthy food. News Channel 12 reported in February in 2020 that Senator Gardenhire said, “Statistics show that obesity rates in the inner cities are the highest of any zip code than anywhere else and diabetes is the highest of any zip codes than anywhere else because they are not getting the healthy food that they need." The bill that Senator Gardenhire is trying to pass will give incentives for grocery stores to move into the cities so that the food desert will no longer be. Even for families who have enough money for food it is very hard for families without a car to bring groceries on to public transport.  

“Not long ago we had a family come [in], and we had a cart wheeled out to them. The whole family was there. It makes me cry when I think about it. It was the dad, the mom, the brother and the sister," Ms. Fritts recalls. "They all got out of the car to help load the food into the trunk, and the little boy looked into the box and said, ‘Look mommy we can have dinner tonight.’ And that is why we do what we do.'' Ms. Fritts is a short red haired lady with a sort of kind authority who walks like an olympian (very fast). Her office is a bland meeting room with posters on the cream walls. She says she continues to get up every morning to go feed people she does not even know because she lived a good well fed middle class life. She had never been worried about when her next meal will be or if she will have electricity any given month.

 

The first time saw witnessed food insecurity as a problem was when she started teaching at Red Bank Elementary and she was preparing a Christmas party for her students. “We had a Christmas party, and they were going to do it all. We were going to use this class time to have a party. They were going to bring the food. They brought half bags of potato chips. They could not afford to buy more food to bring to class for the party. That's really when I realized what kids were facing at home.” After she saw that, she then moved to Thrasher Elementary, where the kids had been well fed and well taken care of, never being hungry at school nor coming unprepared. 

Ms. Fritts has to work hard to get people to donate, as money does not just come waltzing in the front door. With Ms. Fritts at the helm of these operations there is a lot going on. To keep a 40,000 square foot warehouse full with 1 million pounds of food and still be giving to the community takes a lot. Right now, she is spearheading a billboard campaign, social media pages, a direct mailing list, and individually soliciting donors. She offers donors tours of the warehouse and an impact report to show their effect on the community. Without all of this work she puts in, there would be much less of a spotlight on the food bank and much fewer donations to help feed the community with.    

The food bank is vital for the Chattanooga area. Whether they are helping with disaster relief from COVID 19 to tornados, they are there to help. They serve the elderly and the child. They make sure that no one feels forgotten. Throughout these hard times, they have prospered, and right now are full of produce to give out to families in need. They do this for the elderly in need. They do it for the child without food.

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Jennifer Fritts is the head of communications and marketing at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.