Teen organizes produce drop to feed hungry
By Wes Wade | (email@example.com)
Kyle Wright said he wanted to reach as many people as possible, and 40,000 pounds of fresh produce sounded like a good start.
On Saturday the 16-year-old Maryville High School student gathered dozens of volunteers in the back parking lot of Sycamore United Methodist Church, ready to bag up and ship off 40,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.
It all started after Wright had heard a sermon at his church, Broadway United Methodist, which challenged the congregation to dedicate 90 minutes in 90 days to fight hunger. Then there was the fact that Wright, a member of Boy Scout Troop 800 at Sycamore United Methodist, needed an idea for an Eagle Scout project.
“There was a sermon that mentioned a glean,” Wright said. “And mom and I just started thinking about it and we kind of took off with it. It sounded nice. It didn’t sound very easy, but it sounded nice.”
Wright originally planned to do a green bean drop, but the event had to be postponed a week because of rain. They then had to switch to sweet potatoes at the last minute because the green beans were no longer available. To make sure the produce made it into the hands — and mouths — of the most people possible, Wright called several food pantries in Maryville and the surrounding area to come pick up as many bags as they could carry. Second Harvest Food Bank, which will divide its share with food banks all across East Tennessee, was able to take about 20,000 pounds of potatoes.
Tom Bell, development manager at Second Harvest Food Bank, said fresh produce is, of course, not nearly as common as other food donations.
“We’re thrilled to do it,” Bell said. “We don’t get fresh food like this very often, and we’re talking about 20,000 pounds of potatoes, and they’ll be gone by next Saturday.”
Bell estimated that the entire 40,000 pound crop would feed about 40,000 people.
Wright partnered with the Society of St. Andrew in order to obtain the sweet potatoes, which came from a North Carolina farm. It was produce that otherwise would have gone to waste and was acquired in what’s called a glean, explained Mike Smith, who does volunteer work with the Society of St. Andrew. Through gleaning — which is the Biblical practice of hand-gathering crops left after a harvest — the Society of St. Andrew is able to help hungry people across the country.
“I do it because I hate to see food go to waste, and there’s so many people who need it” Smith said. “We waste 96 billion pounds of fresh food in this country every year ... these (potatoes) would have gone to a landfill and the farmer donated them.”
Some 60 to 75 volunteers came out to help separate the crop into 10-pound bags, many coming from area Boy Scout troops and both Sycamore and Broadway United Methodist churches. Friendsville resident Randy Reeder, who attends Sycamore United Methodist, said Wright visited the church two weeks prior seeking help with the project.
“Kyle came here and they showed a picture of (green) beans, which is what they were originally going to do, and it was apparent they were going to need a little help,” Reeder said. “And it’s for a very good cause.”
Others, like Maryville resident Sherry Winchester and her husband, Ken Himmel, were recruited by Second Harvest Food Bank. Winchester explained that the couple, who have typically supported Second Harvest through donations, received an email about the drop the previous night.
“It was one of those last minute things,” she said. “That (email) came in around 8 p.m. last night and we thought — bag potatoes or mow the yard?”
It marked the first time they’ve come out to perform physical labor for the organization, she said.
“(We) thought we could do other things, too,” Winchester said. “And I don’t eat sweet potatoes, otherwise I might not be here!”
Wright, who expects to be reaching Eagle Scout by the end of the year, said he wanted to thank everybody who came out and made the sweet potato drop a success.
“I’m very grateful to all the people who came out,” Wright said. “I mean there’s a lot of people here I don’t really know, and it’s all getting done. I’m just happy so many people came out to help.”
And, in the end, it was the number of people the effort would eventually help that made it all worthwhile, Wright said.
“I didn’t want to just do something for (a few) people,” he said. “I knew I just wanted to get it out.”