Peanut butter on pancakes, crackers, sandwiches and in cookies and pies — there are hundreds of ways to dress it up or eat it straight from the jar.

Thanks to the congregation at Alcoa First United Methodist, more families in food crisis will be able to enjoy the versatile food.

Lots and lots of families.

That’s because this congregation took a challenge from their pastor to heart. The Rev. Todd Chaney, who just took over as pastor, has been familiarizing himself with this community in order to be a better servant. He was introduced to Daniel Franklin, administrator of Louisville Christian Assistance Center, a nonprofit food ministry located on Topside Road next to the post office.

After a day of volunteering there, Chancey said he asked Franklin how his church could pitch in. What does LCAC need?

“We always need peanut butter,” Franklin replied back.

“That was the first thing out of my mouth,” the administrator said.

That was a few weeks ago. Chancey stood in the pulpit days later and asked the church if they would get behind a drive to donate jars of peanut butter to the center. He said he didn’t set a goal at that time; he just asked his members to bring the jars and place them at the altar, as an offering.

“We soon realized our altar wasn’t big enough,” Chancey said. They had collected 400 jars by mid-September and began storing it elsewhere in the church.

Johnny Walker was in charge of counting and keeping track of donations. When the end of the month rolled around, the count was in: 2,065 jars of Jiff, Skippy and store brands.

After the 400 was reached, Chancey said he decided to set 2,000 as the official goal. As an incentive, he agreed to be blasted with water balloons should the goal be met. He got his drenching this past Wednesday to the delight of the children in the congregation.

“We are just blessed to share,” this pastor said. “This congregation is so generous. As their pastor, I am proud they would find such Christian joy in sharing jars of peanut butter.”

Church member Tony Graf has seen the valuable work done at LCAC. He has volunteered there for close to six years. He was a Navy buddy with a former administrator, John Davis. Graf volunteers on Wednesdays at the center and also goes out on food pickups.

LCAC, Franklin explained, is open to the public each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The center gets much of its food from Second Harvest Food Bank but also from community donations. For instance, LCAC is fortunate to get fresh bread in every week from a local donor.

The ministry is operated 100% by volunteers. There are probably close to 150 who give freely of their time, Franklin said.

In addition, there are seven Blount County churches who support LCAC in a variety of ways.

Right now, the organization is seeing an increase in the number of clients served.

“We are seeing over 1200 families each month,” Franklin said. “We don’t just do this for Louisville; Anybody in Blount County can come. The only requirement is for them to come in and say they need help.”

It’s been a tough summer for the ministry, Franklin said. The challenge has been to keep the food room at the center at USDA guidelines because of the record degree heat. Cooling is done with a donated unit. Franklin said the room up front where the volunteers work has gotten up to 100 degrees, forcing them to have to close early. Many of the volunteers are retirees.

“We are looking for a future home but we don’t have the funds right now,” Franklin said. “Doing it now would take away from being able to provide the food that we do.”

Besides the food, LCAC also provides spiritual nourishment in the form of prayer, devotionals and Bibles, the administrator said. He said because of the opioid crisis, there is a new generation of parents needing LCAC’s help — grandparents and great-grandparents.

“We have seen a huge increase in recent years of grandparents and great-grandparents raising their grandchildren,” Franklin said. “It is part of the opiois crisis for sure. They are on Medicare and Social Security. They don’t have the necessary funds to care for the children like they want to. A lot of them are embarrassed to come to the center. We tell the, not to feel that way. We understand the problem.”

Chancey and his congregation know 2,065 jars of peanut butter won’t solve global hunger or provide a permanent fix to the food crisis here in this community. But, Chancey said it is a place to start. There are hundreds of churches in Blount County.

“If we can do something as simple as a jar of peanut butter in the name of the Lord, there is no limit to what we can do in this community,” he said.

Breaking those peanut butter jars down into servings gives an enlightening perspective, the pastor said. If each jar could provide 20 sandwiches, that translates into 41,300 sandwiches in all.

“Our hope is that other churches will catch a vision and collect something and help support LCAC,” Chancey said. “If every church did something, it would lighten the load and provide for even more families.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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