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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Barry Ligon helps label boxes for the Brainerd Community Food Pantry at Brainerd United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Brainerd Community Food Pantry will hold its first distribution Wednesday, Oct. 14 at the church.

Community groups in Brainerd are coming together to make food more accessible to the hungry through the Brainerd Community Food Pantry, which will hold its first distribution Wednesday at Brainerd United Methodist Church.

Brainerd is one of the highest-need areas served by the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, with its 37411 ZIP code representing 10% of all requests for assistance from the 18 ZIP codes served by the food bank, according to a news release.

When the area lost its sole grocery store, the Food City formerly located at Belvoir Avenue and Brainerd Road, in 2018, then-president of the MidTown Chamber Council Bess Steverson convened a group of community leaders to seek ways to improve food access in the neighborhood.

They planned to create a food pantry modeled after the successful Red Bank Community Food Pantry, a collaborative effort among churches and small feeding programs in Red Bank.

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Brainerd Community Food Pantry

[READ MORE: Brainerd leaders launching community food pantry based on Red Bank model]

Two months ago Brainerd United Methodist pastor the Rev. Tim Bracken learned of their plans and that they were still looking for a location, and he offered the church building to serve as the pantry's headquarters and distribution site.

"We're a church that's been trying to find a niche, and we've got a great place to do this at," said Bracken, who had been looking for ways that the church could become more involved in the community since he became its pastor in July 2019. "Our goal is to become so involved in the community that if we go away, our community would go away."

Other churches, neighborhood associations, schools, businesses, Scout troops and ommunity groups have also stepped up in the past few months to help provide funding and volunteers for the pantry, which Bracken said expects 200 families at its first distribution.

"I'm sure that list will continue to grow," he said of the groups participating, adding they expect the number of people served to grow as well as the holiday season approaches.

Over the past two months the Brainerd Community Food Pantry has raised $25,000, including $10,000 from the Medical Society of Chattanooga, Steverson said. Businesses also have donated supplies, such as Southern Champion Tray, which provided boxes, and Publix, which donated reusable bags.

McCallie School, where Steverson serves as director of development of special initiatives, is partnering with the pantry, along with Grace Episcopal Church, the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, and the Ridgeside, Shawnee Hills and Brainerd Hills neighborhoods, she said.

The pantry will distribute food out of Brainerd United Methodist on the second Wednesday of the month from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and on the fourth Wednesday of the month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Food purchased from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank will be distributed in boxes to families, who do not need a voucher to receive food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers will place the boxes in the trunks of cars to reduce contact.

For pedestrians, the pantry will distribute bags of donated food in single serving sizes. The pantry has an Amazon Wishlist of items needed for the bags for individuals as well as items in low supply at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, such as dog, cat and baby food.

"We're still looking for volunteers, and people can always make donations," Steverson said, adding that the need for both volunteers and funding is expected to increase.

To make a donation, visit brainerdfoodpantry.com or mail a check payable to Brainerd Community Food Pantry to Brainerd United Methodist Church at 4315 Brainerd Road, Chattanooga, TN 37411. To volunteer or for more information visit brainerdfoodpantry.com or email brainerdfoodpantry@gmail.com.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508. Follow her on Twitter @emcrisman.

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