Sunset Gap Community Center in Cosby, Tennessee has served its corner of Appalachia for 124 years. Founded in 1899 as a school for the isolated, rural community in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, today it offers home repairs for elderly, low-income, and disabled residents; a thrift store where people can afford to buy donated clothing and household items; and—most important—a drive-through food bank that serves over 500 families each month. Cars begin lining up at 6:30 every Wednesday for the food distribution that starts at 9 a.m. By noon, volunteers will have given out over 1500 boxes per month and with approximately 80 to 100 pounds of canned vegetables, meat, peanut butter, rice, beans, frozen meat, fresh produce and vegetables, breakfast items, bread, and other baked goods.
But we urgently need your help! Ten years ago a grant paid for a refrigerated truck, which allowed us to include fresh items in food boxes. Much of what we distribute comes from government programs as well as Second Harvest, FISH Hospitality Pantries, grocery stores, and other sources in and around Knoxville, which is an hour away. Without refrigeration we can only pick up non-perishable food. Careful maintenance and periodic repairs kept our truck running until last winter, when it broke down on Interstate 40 on the way to pick up food.
The verdict this time was dire: the truck, which has logged approximately 20,000 miles, needs a new engine. The cost? $55,000. Without our refrigerated truck, we’ve haven’t been able to pick up perishable items since December 2022.
Cocke County, where Sunset Gap is located, is the fifth-poorest county in Tennessee and second-to-last in health outcomes, which depend in part on nutrition. Let’s look at some statistics:
- Median household income in Cocke County is just $30,868, compared to $53,482 for the U.S. as a whole.
- In Newport, the county seat, 41% of families live below the poverty line.
- Of the county’s nearly 36,000 residents, 20% are under 18 and 5% are under 5 years old.
- In the county, 4 out of 10 children under 18 live in poverty and in Newport, the number is 7 out of 10.
- Just over half of Cocke County children under 5 live in poverty.
- In 2020 nearly 23% of families in the county were food-insecure, including 31% of children.
- Cocke County has the fourth-highest child poverty rate in the state.
- 23% of county residents receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits; of these, 21.4% of the households have two or more family members who work at least part-time.
We need to raise enough money to fix our truck, which will enable us to again bring fresh produce, vegetables, milk, and eggs to our clients. It’s a daunting amount, but if lots of people give even a little, we can make it. Please help us reach this important goal so we can continue to feed hungry families!
Our website can be found at https://sunsetgap.weebly.com
We also have a Facebook page.