Empty Pantry Fund still going strong after 60 years
A wonderful tradition began in 1952. Sixty years later, it’s still going strong and meeting the needs of Blount County’s underprivileged citizens.
The Empty Pantry Fund was started as a joint project of The Daily Times and the Maryville/Alcoa Jaycees. Through the years, the number of families needing an extra boost to have a happy Christmas has grown, but the original intent of EPF is the same: neighbor helping neighbor, providing food for a good Christmas dinner and then some.
My dear friend Paul Bales served as chairman of EPF for more than 50 years. For him, this project is a passion, one he works diligently to serve even though he retired as chairman in 2011. The leadership of the organization is now through a board of directors. Lon Fox serves as president, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell as vice president, Tony Clark as treasurer and Jared Smith as secretary. Paul, as past chairman, is one of the directors as are Carl Esposito, publisher of The Daily Times; Keri Prigmore, representing the Jaycees; and Jamey Hearon, vice president of Junior Service League of Maryville.
As Lon has pointed out, a group of people are now in charge of what Paul did single-handedly. The irrepressible Mr. Bales deserves much of the credit for the success of this project through the years, although he doesn’t want the recognition. He just wants people to be fed and treated as human beings.
The more I learn about EPF and see the inner workings of getting this project successfully completed each year, the more impressed I am. No one is paid for his or her service to EPF; it’s voluntary, a way to give back to this community. I had no idea when I was a youngster barely old enough to read this newspaper exactly what EPF was about. Back then, I’d read about the need and see the lists of supporters published — now, I’m the one charged with sharing that information with other readers. It’s quite humbling to play this small part.
When I began working for the Times in 2000, covering EPF was one of my first and favorite assignments. I can recall having Paul tell me about packing night, but I could not really understand what it’s about until I experienced it for myself. This is truly a sight to behold, a time where you can see the tradition of giving handed down throughout the generations. This is the description I’ve used in the past and it’s as true today as it was the first time: “Cans and boxes of food, stacked higher than your head, around a large perimeter in a great edible square. Volunteers standing at each station, putting one can of this, two cans of that, one box of this, one bag of that, in each of the humongous bags, or ‘baskets,’ that would eventually hold around 100 pounds of food, enough to feed a family of four for more than a week. Shopping carts filled with a couple of the big bags, pushed at a fast clip around and around the square, pausing just long enough for the foods to be set inside the bags. Boy Scouts and other youngsters inside the square, breaking down boxes as foods were packed and then carrying them outside, out of the way.”
Describing packing night as controlled chaos, as I did in one of my earliest stories, is still true. I’ve also likened the activity to a holiday dance in a great ballroom where the dancers sway in and out, changing places as other “dancers” request either a food station or a shopping cart. It is truly amazing. Can you imagine a place where you have to good-naturedly jostle another volunteer so you can play a role, as well?
If you’d like to attend the packing, come to the Tennessee National Guard Armory around 6 p.m. Thursday. Check it out. If you’re so inclined, delivery routes will be distributed that evening, as well. Volunteers will take the food as well as toys collected through the Junior Service League of Maryville’s Toys for Blount County project directly to the homes of families who signed up during the October clearinghouse beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 16.
Tax-deductible donations will be accepted through the end of the year and may be sent to Empty Pantry Fund, c/o The Daily Times, P.O. Box 9740, Maryville, TN 37802-9740. If you’re on Facebook, keep up with EPF progress on its page, The Empty Pantry Fund.
Also, Judge David Duggan and I have collaborated to produce a pictorial history of Maryville through Arcadia Publishing Company’s “Images of America” series. The book will be released Monday, and on Tuesday, we will have a book sale and signing event beginning at 6 p.m. at Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School’s library sponsored by the Maryville City Schools Foundation. We plan to donate $4 per book sold through us this coming week to be divided equally between the foundation and Empty Pantry Fund.
Giving of your time, funds and prayers to worthy organizations such as Empty Pantry Fund is sure to make your own Christmas as blessed as it will be for those who receive the foods.
Linda Albert is Sunday Life editor and a staff writer for The Daily Times. You may contact her at 981-1168 or (email@example.com)