published Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Cooper: What to do with 6.3 million pounds of sweet potatoes

Got sweet potatoes?

The Chattanooga Area Food Bank does -- 42,000 pounds of them, to be exact.

Some 40 volunteers will spend this morning putting the 21 tons of potatoes in 10-pound bags so they can be distributed to smaller area food pantries and people who need them.

Becky Hall, director of ministries at Christ United Methodist Church, got the original call from the denomination's Holston Conference, which heard from the Virginia-based Society of St. Andrew, which heard from a grower in North Carolina who needed to clean out his warehouses.

What was available for free was 6.3 million pounds of sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato fries, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato pie, anyone?

"One of the challenges" in receiving such a large quantity of produce through the Society of St. Andrew, Hall said, "is you have relatively short notice. When they get a donation, you have to move it.

"I'm excited but a little terrified," she said.

Christ UMC agreed to supply the bags and pay the freight for the potatoes -- from 2.5 to 6 cents per pound, according to the Society of St. Andrew -- and the Food Bank agreed to be the receiver.

"Rather than drop them at the church," Hall said, "it made more sense to have them dropped at the Food Bank. It's a logistics thing."

She rounded up volunteers within her congregation, and the local United Methodist district office put the word out to other churches within the denomination.

"Somehow, we'll get it managed," Hall said. For Christ UMC, she said, it's another "opportunity to do hands-on things that [assist] people in our community."

As of Thursday, 57 truckloads of sweet potatoes had been distributed or were scheduled to be distributed to 10 states through the Society of St. Andrew. That's just over a third of the 150 full truckloads it is expected to take to distribute all the yams.

According to the Christian hunger ministry, 6.3 million pounds of sweet potatoes translate into 19 million servings of food to the hungry.

"It boggles your mind," said Hall.

The Food Bank already has promised more than 10,000 pounds of the potatoes to member agencies who rely on the local agency to provide inventory for their pantries and feeding programs.

Sweet potatoes also will be added to the emergency food boxes that are distributed daily to hungry individuals and families.

Clare Sawyer, president of the Food Bank, said the agency previously received a donation of 40,000 pounds of cabbage, some green beans and potatoes -- via Berry College in Rome, Ga. -- through the Society of St. Andrew but not before with the assistance of a local church.

"It's wonderful," she said of the potatoes. "Fresh produce is really hard for us to be able to afford in that large a quantity. The challenge is to pack it up and move it out. We have to jump on an opportunity like this and try to make it work."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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