By REBECCA HAZEN
The Tri-State Food Pantry, located on 2026 Highway 136 West on Sand Mountain, helps Dade County individuals and families who are in need of extra food resources.
The Tri State Food Pantry is an all-volunteer agency. The pantry was started more than 25 years ago by a few individuals at Sand Mountain United Methodist Church.
“We are governed by a board of directors, and all 13 of us are active volunteers. We meet every couple of months and make decisions to make the best use of the pantry’s resources,” Chairperson Rose Powell said.
The food pantry is funded by donations from churches in Dade County, as well as the United Way of Greater Chattanooga.
Donations are also accepted and welcomed from individuals and organizations in the community.
Food is bought from two large food banks, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, and the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Because the Tri-State Food Pantry is an approved agency, they pay by weight, which is a much lower cost than retail price.
“It is much more economical for us to take those dollars that people donate to us and shop at the food bank as opposed to a grocery store or a wholesale food distributor,” Powell said.
The type of food that is available is different each time, but there is a wide variety.
“We try to have a good selection of fruits and vegetables. It’s the kind of items that you would stock a pantry with,” Powell said.
Individuals and families that qualify for food distribution can get a 40-pound box once a month, plus 10 pounds of frozen goods such as vegetables and meat.
The food pantry serves Dade County residents who qualify based on a low income. Their income must be 130 percent of the federal poverty level, with an income scale based on the number of people in the household.
“We are obligated to use that income scale, but if someone comes to us and says that they really need help that month, but they don’t qualify, we will try to work with them,” Powell said.
People can pick up the food boxes on the first and third Friday of each month. Advertised hours are from 3 to 5 p.m., but the volunteers have started distributing earlier, at 2 p.m., to accommodate the drive through process that started during the pandemic.
The Tri State Food Pantry is currently helping about 300 Dade County families. Powell says that number is a little higher than pre-COVID-19 numbers. At the beginning of the pandemic, the pantry was serving almost 500 families.
Powell expects to see that number slowly trickle back up, due to both inflation costs, and the recently ended Child Tax Credit.
Volunteers are always needed, both for distribution and boxing. Those interested in volunteering can call Powell at (423) 316-0384. Boxing of food items occurs on the Wednesday before the first Friday of the month.
“We received an order this morning and it was two pallets of chicken and a pallet of canned goods. If you come early on Friday, we can use you for sorting things out,” Powell said.
Help is also needed for loading up the food for the distribution at the West Brow Fire Station on Lookout Mountain. Distribution there is the first Friday of each month.
“Some of us have skills like book work, and some have skills to do the grunt work. We need to have both. This is a job that needs a strong back to do some of it,” Powell said.
Joan Kenimer has been volunteering at the Tri-State Food Pantry for at least 10 years.
“I have never been hungry, and I can’t imagine not having food for my children. This alleviates that issue for a lot of people. That is why I am here. My husband comes here too. It is a volunteer project for us to do together and we enjoy that,” Kenimer said.
Sharon Adkins is a volunteer and has also benefited from the Tri-State Food Pantry herself.
“There have been times where things have been scarce, and had it not been for the pantry, I would have been lacking. Things are better now, but I want to continue to give back,” Adkins said.
For more information, visit tristatefoodpantry.weebly.com/.