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Appalachian Outreach meeting surging need amid COVID-19 outbreak

(March 23, 2020) JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Carson-Newman University’s community ministry, Appalachian Outreach, has for years provided the region with a variety of services, including a food pantry, clothing ministry, emergency shelter, home repairs and more.

As the community adapts to the national COVID-19 outbreak and economic turmoil, the ministry is striving to provide food for a surging number of families in need.

Executive Director Jean-Ann Washam said that the center normally serves 300 families a month and more than 3,000 in a year. But in the past week, the center has received an increased stream of calls with requests for assistance. On Thursday, workers served over 60 families in the first half of the day alone.

“That’s a lot for us,” Washam said. “It didn’t slow down.”

As a result of that surge, many of the pantry shelves are now bare. She said she has a food order in to help replenish the stock this week, but would welcome donations of pantry items such as canned goods and box meals.

“One of the things I have found to be so impressive and affirming is that all of the social services agencies are working with each other … touching base with each other to see what we’re doing in the community and how we can help each other,” she said. “We’re trying to maximize what those in need can access.”

Kathy Sorrell, a retired healthcare worker who has volunteered with the ministry for two years, said she values her time with the program as an opportunity see the goodness and generosity of others.

Sorrell witnessed the surging need firsthand on Thursday. Workers had to stretch what was there a bit thinner than what they might have been able to offer families in the past, but she said everyone was very appreciative of the items they received.

As a safety precaution, staff and volunteers distributed food in the parking lot to families in their vehicles.

We didn’t get to hug yesterday, but we try to be a smiling face and word of encouragement,” she said. “I take them home in my heart and pray for them.”

Food distribution takes place from 1-4 p.m. Mondays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 511 Municipal Drive, Jefferson City. Donations may be made there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“We have not reduced our hours at this time and have had volunteers from local churches actually deliver food to families that are unable to come to the ministry center,” Washam said. “We have closed our clothing ministry at this time. A lot of our volunteers are older and are not able to come because of health concerns.”

Washam encourages calling the center at 865-475-5611 or visiting the Appalachian Outreach Facebook page to check for any changes in scheduling before arriving.

Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman is a Christian liberal arts-based university affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The University is located in Jefferson City, Tennessee, among the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and has over 2,700 students. Carson-Newman offers 50 undergraduate majors, as well as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

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