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John McMillin:Innovation of nonprofits key to helping people

John McMillin • Updated Oct 3, 2017 at 6:30 PM

United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland partners with more than 40 programs in our service area, helping people from birth onward. Some programs are what yound expect, but there are always some surprises. I enjoy our allocation process because, every year, Idm astounded by the ingenuity of people wanting to help others. 

While we aren’t able to support every new focus area of our partners, we do have an across the board menu of nonprofits that help people of all ages, all races, all income levels, really anyone in some manner. For example, Books from Birth begins helping children and parents in encouraging and making early reading possible no matter the personWs income level. At the same time, Mid Cumberland Human Resources Ombudsman program works to ensure long-term and nursing home care patients are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.  

This week, I’d like to focus attention on Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. For many years, we have helped this agency provide food to hungry children whose main meals are those served at school. Their backpack program ensures that on weekends or during school breaks, children who are at risk for being hungry have nutritious easy to prepare meals. 

While we haven’t been able to supply a large portion of their budget, the UWWUC allocations volunteers are always deeply touched by this program’s basic goal of helping feed hungry children. The need is real. A recent Hunger in America study found that 19 percent of children in Wilson County alone are food insecure. 

Our United Way in Wilson County focuses specifically on Wilson County children. However, it is interesting and sad to note that throughout Second Harvest’s 46-county service area in Middle Tennessee, 141,710 children are at risk of hunger. WhatOs more, 46 percent of Middle Tennesseans at risk of hunger do not qualify for assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

Beyond this, the agency also is involved with an innovate program with fresh tomatoes. As of December 2016, Second Harvest began processing about 6,000 pounds of low sodium spaghetti sauce weekly with donated tomatoes. This began with a local tomato repacking company offering to donate 10,000 pounds of tomatoes every week.

Now, working with 20 farmers, Second Harvest plans to produce 720,000 pounds of spaghetti sauce and other tomato products over the course of three years. As a result, both local partner agencies and the larger nationwide food bank network will have a new product available to them that captures fresh nutrition in shelf stable form for food insecure people, most of whom are at risk of diet-related health problems. The overall goal of the project is to build supply relationships with local tomato growers, build processing capability and increase healthy food supplies to needy communities. 

Simply throwing money at a problem isn’t what we do, nor is it something we want to do. Improvising and problem solving are key to our best non-profit partners working to help people, who want to help themselves, live with dignity and set themselves on the road to independence.

John McMillin is president of the United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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