Jesse Jones Project GRAD support coach, a smiling face greeting the children. Photos by Vivian Shipe

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — First came the announcement that school would be closed till April 4th, then the date changed to April 24th. While the doors were locked on education, they also locked up another important need of the 60,000 plus children who attend school in Knox county; the need for a meal.

For many children in Knoxville and around the United States, the meals they receive at school are many times the only meal they get for the day. It is not unusual for a child to stop in the office of many a school and ask if they have something the child can eat. In Tennessee, 49 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch. With a poverty rate of 26.5 percent in Knoxville, the number of children who would go hungry due to the corona virus set off an alarm across the city as the end of spring break was quickly approaching.

Knox County Schools, The Change Center, all recreation centers and many churches quickly mobilized to set up feeding stations to answer the call of the hungry. The school system set up a team of volunteers at select schools in every part of the county. To meet the safe distancing requirement, the teams set up a drive by pick up program. Every Monday Wednesday and Friday from 10 am till noon, the meals are packed by principals, teachers, and cafeteria workers who greet the children with a smile as their parents can drive by and receive two days worth of meals for their children. the meals are free and the only requirement is the children must be present in the car.

To meet the needs of children who may not be able to car ride, the recreation centers in Knoxville and Knox county have been opened as feeding  sites also.

Evening meals are also being covered by the Change Center under the direction of executive director Dr. Nicole Chandler, who, along with her team, also hand out GRAB AND GO dinners  from 4 till 6 pm. The children receive hot fresh pizza cooked at the center, along with a drink, chips and cookies. The same procedure is in place as the parents drive thru and the child must be present. The Change Center is working in partnership with Project GRAD Knoxville, ( who for over a decade has fed hungry children with their food to home backpack program) First AME Zion Church, Foster Chapel Baptist Church, All Souls Church, and Overcoming Believers Church.

“Kids are the heart and soul of the Change Center”, said Chandler.