Hunger continues to be a major issue for Greene County. According to the Greene County Food Security Partnership, 5,630 people living in the county lack food security. Of these, 2,090 are children, many of whom do not generally participate in the school lunch programs.
Focus groups for the Hunger Summit have identified several other issues that plague Greene County. Poverty continues to be an issue that Greene County faces, as 16.3% of people in Greene County live in poverty. This results in a lack of transportation, and many people lack access to food pantries because they have no way to get there.
Poor literacy also influences hunger in Greene County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.9% of high school students drop out before graduation. Coupled with a decline in low-skill employment opportunities and substance abuse, the lack of literacy hinders many people from finding decent-paying jobs. The Greene County Food Security partnership also says that the lack of literacy causes many people to have trouble applying for Free and Reduced School Meals.
Over the past few years, Greene County has seen the emergence of several little food pantries, or Helping Boxes. Helping Boxes are small boxes where people can leave food for others to come and take as they need it.
Margaret Truntrich, former co-chair of the Greene County food partnership, says the Helping Boxes offer a simple solution for people who might not feel comfortable applying for government welfare.
“Our hope was that people who needed food for a temporary period of time and couldn’t imagine applying for any kind of handout would use it,” she said. “Everyone would be happy: the people who got to help their neighbors and the people who needed help.”
According to Truntrich, Helping Boxes are a good way to aid the people who need help in Greene County and are too proud to ask for it.
“There are a lot of people out there who need help and are very proud folks that don’t want to ask for it,” she said. “This is a nice way to let people get some help without anybody knowing and affecting their pride in any way.”
Truntrich says the idea was originally given to her by a friend.
“One of the people that I know was challenged by her daughter, who lived in Nashville, to put in a little food pantry, because a lot of organizations there were doing that. So she got the First Presbyterian Church to put one up,” Truntrich said. “She came to the Food Security Partnership to see if we might be interested in spreading the word and getting other organizations involved, and we thought that it was a great idea.”
The Food Security Partnership then put together a committee to determine which businesses and organizations would be interested in putting together their own little food pantries.
“A few [organizations] agreed. There were many who were concerned with vandalism,” Truntrich said. “There were a lot of organizations who did not want to get involved. But there were a few that did.”
Although Truntrich is no longer with the Greene County Food Security Partnership, her experience seems to indicate that the initiative is working.
“From looking at some of the food boxes in town, like at the library and First Presbyterian, it seems to be working rather well,” she said.
Truntrich hopes more people decide to create their own Helping Box.
“It’s just a good way for people to help their neighbors,” she said.
Those who are interested in creating Helping Boxes can go to littlefreepantry.org for resources and instructions.