It came with almost no warning. On Monday, November 28, deadly wildfires struck Gatlinburg, a popular mountain resort city in East Tennessee. “When we woke up Tuesday morning and learned of all the tragic destruction and loss of life, it was a terrible experience.” says Elaine Streno, executive director at Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, a member of the Feeding America network. “It was traumatic for many people in our community.”
Sadly, the fires led to 14 deaths and an estimated $500 million in damages.* Many of Second Harvest’s donors, staff and partners were affected. Approximately 2,500 buildings were damaged or destroyed in Gatlinburg – including a church that operated a food pantry served by the food bank. Many local businesses burned down, meaning that many people lost their places of employment in the blaze.
As the community struggled to grasp what happened, Second Harvest jumped into action. “We put the word out that we were ready to help,” says Elaine. “The week the fires happened, the food bank provided approximately 8,000 meals to people impacted by the fires. The next week we provided about 40,000 meals.”
In partnership with many generous donors and partners like the American Red Cross, Second Harvest delivered food and household essentials to people who lost everything — homes, businesses, family keepsakes and more. National donors to the Feeding America network, including Abbott, the Kellogg Company and Tyson Foods, Inc. all went the extra mile, providing food and supplies to the food bank. Thanks to these partners and many other compassionate supporters, families in need received meals, clothing, toiletries and much more from Second Harvest’s food pantries and meal programs.
The food bank also received many caring offers of assistance from other Feeding America food banks in the midst of the crisis. “The response from the community and the nation was enormous,” says Elaine. “There was a huge surge of help.” Several Feeding America members reached out to Second Harvest to provide support — including the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, where just a couple of months earlier, flooding had severely damaged the food bank’s facilities and vehicle fleet.
Nothing can replace what was lost in Gatlinburg, and people across East Tennessee are just beginning their journey toward healing and recovery. However, Second Harvest has learned valuable lessons from this disaster and demonstrated that they are ready and willing to support their community during tough times. In partnership with many caring supporters and partners, the food bank will continue providing people affected by the fire with sustenance and supplies so they can rebuild their lives and hold onto hope for the future.
*USA Today. A month after historic fire, Gatlinburg rebuilds. December 28, 2016.