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Appalachian Outreach benefits from local community as it serves growing demand

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Logan Lewis, a volunteer at Appalachian Outreach, helps prepare food for distribution. The ministry has seen a surge of people in need since the COVID-19 outbreak.

(April 8, 2020) JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman University’s Appalachian Outreach Ministry continues to see a surge from those in need brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have seen an increase in numbers,” said Jean-Ann Washam, executive director of AO. “We are seeing people who have never received services before who have not been able to go back to work.” Washam cited that some are employees in the retail and restaurant business. “This past month we served over 400 families; that is over 100 new families for us,” she said.

Washam explained that AO, which is serving Jefferson, Cocke and Grainger counties, is operating its Samaritan House ministry at full capacity, helping families who are experiencing a housing crisis.

But it is their food distribution ministry that she said is really being buoyed by the local community. Washam said that AO is operating the distribution from their parking lot at 511 Municipal Drive in Jefferson City, allowing for people to safely drive-up and pick up items.

Food distribution takes place from 1-4 p.m. Mondays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We’ve had a really good community response,” said Washam. “We’ve had people recognize that we need additional food because we have new families. They’ve brought food and given monetary donations.”

Washam noted that a recent donation by Pierce’s Produce in Jefferson City allowed them to give out fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. “Some of our families would not have been able to purchase such items,” she said. “It was all because of one of our local businesses that asked, ‘What can we do to help?’”

She explained that Wal-Mart and Food City have both established donation areas at their stores, allowing for customers to purchase pre-assembled bags of groceries that AO can later pick up at the store.

“Local businesses recognize our pantry is strained,” said Washam. “We can not operate at the same level with the same amount of food on our shelves while we are giving out so much more.”

It’s not only food that locals are donating. Washam said that a recent donation of homemade facemasks by Faith Baptist Church is helping keep her volunteers and staff safe. The gesture meant a lot to the ministry director, who is quick to champion the commitment of her volunteers and staff.

“Despite their own health concerns,” said Washam, “our volunteers understand that there are people who would not have food if they were not here.

“I think in the middle of a crisis, this is just affirmation that this is a community that works together in good times and bad,” said Washam. “We just pull together.”

Washam said that donations of food, money or even cleaning supplies are still needed and will greatly benefit the ministry.

There are options for those who would like to help:

  • They can donate food and cleaning supplies at AO’s two Jefferson City locations: 511 Municipal Drive and 190 West Old Andrew Johnson Highway. These can be made from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Monetary donations can be made online at aoministry.org. Donations may also be mailed to: Appalachian Outreach, P.O. Box 71904, Jefferson City, Tennessee 37760.

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