By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
ROGERSVILLE — Hunger is a reality across the United States and Tennessee is no different. Some people view hunger, however, as a need found only in the larger cities in the state.
That’s simply not true.
According to Feeding America, one in six people in Tennessee struggles with hunger. In the state there are 1,103,580 “food insecure” people. The food insecurity rate for Tennessee is 16.9 percent, according to 2014 statistics. Food insecurity refers to the United States Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods, according to Feeding America, a network of food banks across the country that leads in the fight against hunger in communities nationwide.
This summer a ministry in upper East Tennessee helped alleviate hunger in rural areas.
Of One Accord Ministry, based in Rogersville, is an Appalachia ministry serving two rural impoverished counties in the state — Hawkins and Hancock. Hancock County is the lowest income county in Tennessee and 27th lowest in the nation with an average household income level of $23,907. The average income level for Hawkins County is $36,509, about $5,000 below the average income level of $41,715 in Tennessee.
Of One Accord Ministry, led by Sheldon Livesay, has four facilities in three towns operating three food pantries (in Rogersville, Church Hill, and Sneedville), two thrift stores, and a medical clinic. The ministry provides emergency food distribution, a meals on wheels program, a home repair program, and more. The food ministry gives out about one million pounds of food each year, Livesay estimated.
The ministry is funded by proceeds from the thrift stores as well as donations from individuals, churches, businesses, and other sources. The ministry is supported by many of the Baptist churches in Holston Valley Baptist Association, Livesay said. In addition, Of One Accord receives funding from the Tennessee Baptist Convention through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
In the summer months one of its primary ministries is the Lunch Box. The ministry now has four “retired” school buses that have been transformed into mobile cafeterias. Volunteers transport prepared lunches throughout communities in Rogersville and Church Hill. In 2015, 13,729 lunches were delivered to children in Rogersville, Church Hill, Mount Carmel, and Surgoinsville, many in rural areas. Livesay stated that about 1,600 meals a week were served this summer.
Livesay noted that in rural Tennessee there are not a large number of children at any one housing project. The Lunch Box is a way to take the meals to where they are needed, he said. “If you go to the neighborhoods where they live, they will come to the bus, eat, and return to their homes,” Livesay said.
“This ministry is very important. There are children who would go hungry without it,” he stressed.
Meals are delivered Monday-Friday as soon as school ends for the year and continues until the start of the new school year. This summer the program ran from May 31-July 29.
Jennifer Kinsler, who works with Of One Accord, said many local teachers tell her they worry that children will not be fed once school ends for the summer. “At least with this ministry we know they will get one meal each day during the week.”
Kinsler shared that some children have told her that when they climb aboard the Lunch Box on Monday that they have not had anything to eat since the previous Friday. “I can’t imagine that,” she said.
Volunteer Amanda Haun of Rogersville serves regularly on one of the bus routes. “I’ve gone home and cried after serving in this ministry,” she said. “I pray to God for strength for these families,” Haun added.
Wes Ramey, a volunteer and bus driver from Church Hill, served in the ministry for the first time this summer. “This makes you realize how many people go without food,” he said.
“The Lunch Box ministry fills the gap which poor families experience from the end of the school year until school resumes,” observed Joe Sorah, compassion ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“Many of these children depend upon ministries like the Lunch Box to survive. Feeding hungry children fulfills the mandate of love as given by our Savior.
“The Lunch Box gives out more than food. They give out the life-changing message of Christ,” he said.
For more information about Of One Accord Ministry, contact Livesay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-921-8044.