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Stronger Together in Blount County, TN

Volunteer spirit shines through various projects in East Tennessee.

By Lauren Caggiano on September 22, 2021

volunteers pass along donated items

Blount County residents contribute to the vibrancy of their community with a strong sense of volunteerism and giving back, whether it’s through effort to promote sustainability, feed people in need or be involved in any number of causes that make it a better place to live.

Feeding Neighbors in Blount County

Community Food Connection of Blount County (CFC), a food pantry established in 1991, relies on food and monetary donations to keep the shelves stocked. These donations come from individuals, businesses and organizations. In addition, CFC is staffed entirely by volunteers.

As the number of families needing assistance grows, so does CFC’s continued need of support. Board President Diane Kilmer, a longtime volunteer herself, says people lend a hand how and when they can.

“We have volunteers who work the store when it’s open, and we have separate days where volunteers receive our shipments and do the stocking on the shelves,” she says. “We also have various businesses around that donate food. And so, we have drivers that have to go and pick up the food and deliver it to the store.”

According to Kilmer, CFC has as many as 450 active volunteers on their roster and each of these roles is important in ensuring people don’t go hungry in Blount County.

“There are a lot of people in our county and in our city who — during normal times but especially during the pandemic — struggled with food insecurity,” she says.

Kilmer and her board are acutely aware of this reality, and her team of volunteers is working hard to ensure they meet the needs of everyone who enters their doors.

“Our goal is not to end world hunger … but to impact the lives of the people who are next door to us.”

Kevin Kilmer/Community Food Connection of Blount County

Some people need more help than others. Whatever their situation, they’re met with respect and without judgment. That’s something Kilmer’s husband, Kevin, the CFC board vice president, takes to heart.

“So many people are blessed in this life,” he says. “I think being able to help one person out is really where the reward comes from. Because our goal is not to end world hunger … but to impact the lives of the people who are next door to us. It’s fulfilling when you can see one life being changed because of what you do.”

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Environmental Stewardship Strong in Region

Brittney Whipple, executive director of Keep Blount Beautiful, says her organization’s mission is evident by its namesake: encourage and educate residents to take action to improve and beautify their community.

“We have a lot of events and programs that focus on things such as litter eradication, waste reduction and beautification,” she says. “We believe that everyone should live, work and play in clean, green and beautiful places. We want residents to have a sense of community pride.”

The organization works with 600 volunteers on average on an annual basis. To that end, students, businesspeople, neighborhood associations and families show up to volunteer programs, which they learn about via social media and an email newsletter.

For instance, Keep Blount Beautiful offers an adopt-a-mile initiative. Volunteers are provided with the supplies to do the cleanup work and report back to the organization on their progress after the work is done.

Whipple says Keep Blount Beautiful offers other ways to engage with the cause, too. The scope and scale of involvement depends on seasonality, volunteer availability, commitment level and other factors. Ultimately, the volunteers share a common vision in that they want to leave the area cleaner than they found it, and there’s an element of instant gratification.

“I think our volunteers really appreciate the tangible results of litter pickups,” she says. “They can see what they’ve done. They work hard for a couple hours, and it really shows in the pile of trash sitting there.”

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