MECAA starts 2020 commodity distributions

Steve Grigsby, left, and Conley Brewer unpack and bag food March 10 at the War Memorial Building in downtown Lenoir City.

The Mid-East Community Action Agency continues to help Loudon County residents in need with its commodity food distribution.

MECAA held its first commodity food distribution of 2020 on March 10. The effort is one of many programs offered by MECAA to help county families.

“It’s surplus foods from the department of agriculture that goes through our state department,” Tonya Williams, MECAA programs services director, said. “Our food goes into a storage facility in Chattanooga, and then we order it from them and distribute it to the households that are eligible.”

While food items vary, they may include canned vegetables, fruits, meats, juices, cereals, pasta, peanut butter and/or soups.

“We do commodities quarterly and (the recipients) have to register once a year,” Della Larson, outreach coordinator, said. “We are federal and state funded, and we have the same requirements as they do for food stamps, and people have to bring in all of their paperwork, and we are based on income guidelines.”

Residents eligible to receive commodities are those that fall within 150 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines, Williams said. Those who receive assistance through other programs such as food stamps, public housing, supplemental security income or families first automatically qualify but still need to fill out an application.

“One of our big problems is the heating assistance we call ‘LIHEAP’ (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program),” Larson said. “… LIHEAP probably serves 150 to 200 people a year with electricity. … Usually when they register for electric, we go ahead and find out if they’re interested in the food program. We sign them up for commodities.”

After applying, recipients arrive as early as 9 a.m. to the War Memorial Building in downtown Lenoir City on the designated distribution day. They check in and receive bags and boxes of food.

Larson said participation is spotty and not everyone signed up will show to receive food. The application lasts for the whole year, so recipients can pick and choose which distributions they attend based on needs.

The program also sends food to residents in senior housing programs.

“The senior housing, they have people come and bag it for them and take it to them at Spring Place and Dogwood Terrace. So there’s 59 that’s delivered,” Williams said. “… We don’t deliver anything, but other groups do that. The Kiwanis Club and Knights of Columbus come and do that.”

The commodity food distribution serves Roane and Loudon counties. Williams estimates the Loudon County distribution site serves “about 400” people.