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John McMillin: Feeding the hungry next door

John McMillin • Updated May 15, 2016 at 12:00 PM

Food or medicine, which do I choose? Fortunately, I haven’t had to make that choice…yet. I won’t rule it out because of what I see in working with some of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland’s many partner programs that deal with such issues. 

Having recently heard program staff that deal with issues relating to hunger, health care and poverty on a daily basis, it is increasingly apparent that doing without necessities is a growing concern for our area as well as much of the nation. For several evenings during the last two weeks, about 40 local volunteers have interviewed local health and human service providers as they complete their request for funding from UWUC.

Probably one of the most frequent questions posed by allocations volunteers to all of our partner programs that assist people experiencing being unable to afford enough food, medicine or other basic health needs is “who is the average person in need?” Panelists want to know what the poverty guidelines are; how do people come to this place of need in their lives and what factors are to blame. The answer is usually surprising. More and more program administrators are finding the people in need are hard-working, typical middle-class folks who became sick or lost a job or suffered some catastrophic issue that can affect any of us.

Seniors are, of course, highly at risk of not being able to make ends meet. According to Feeding America, 10 percent of seniors over 65 in America in a 2014 study were in poverty. In that same study, 14 percent of American households was food insecure meaning, simply, due to a number of reasons, having enough food to feed their families wasn’t a sure bet on any given day. The U.S. national average of food insecurity, in 2014, was 14.3 percent. Tennessee was significantly higher with 16.3 percent.

As you can imagine, seeing such hunger issues in our own back yard, our local allocations panelists have been touched and have chosen to do something about it. Out of 39 local programs applying for funding, 12 work to assist Wilson County and the counties of the Upper Cumberland with meeting the most basic food needs. Sadly, of the requests made for funding, we are unable to meet all the need. However, at the end of the day, because of donations from many of you, we are able to help thousands of local children, seniors and others.

Most of our allocations panelists would probably agree that one of the most fulfilling things about serving as a volunteer is to be able to witness the goodness of our partner programs. Time after time our panelists would ask, “…what do you do when you run out of money?”  The answer came back more times than not, we find a way to pay for them or we use our own money. Want to be inspired? Contact our local office to volunteer to serve on next year’s allocations panel.

Visit givetouwwc.org for more information.

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

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