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'It's a scary time for these families' | East Tennessee food insecurity, child hunger will continue to be a focus in the new year

"We know there are heartbreaking situations in some homes in East Tennessee," said Elaine Streno. "It's a scary time for these families and these children."

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Food insecurity is reaching an all time high. There's been a 50% increase in need all over the country including here in East Tennessee.

So how are foodbanks gearing up for the continued need in the new year?

Foodbank lines are long in East Tennessee, filled with people coming for the first time, some ashamed to ask for help. 

"The need spiked then went back with the stimulus check and then it spiked. It's been a mountainous range of calls, lines," said Elaine Streno with Second Harvest of East Tennessee. 

She said volunteers are working around the clock trying to meet the rising needs of food insecurity and child hunger. 

"We know there are heartbreaking situations in some homes in East Tennessee," said Streno. "It's a scary time for these families and these children."

With eight different feeding programs spread throughout 18 counties in the region, she said they've been doing everything they can.

"When you're hungry in your home and your child's hungry, it's not just the food you need, there's just so much anxiety with it," she said.

Feeding America reports 17 million US children will have experienced food insecurity by the end of the year and that need will still be there in the new year.

Right now, Streno said it's impossible to know what that will look like. 

"We know we're going to be working hard to feed the hungry. We're going to have at least the amount of people that needed us prior to the pandemic," she said. 

The support though has been huge with donations continuing to come in and people wanting to volunteer. 

"We're exhausted but relieved the giving has been tremendous," she said.

Second Harvest continues to adapt its operations as COVID-19 cases surge. It's only able to have 10 volunteers at a time and distribution lines have been reworked to allow social distancing. 

You can find more information about donating or volunteering here.