Rocky Top residents campaign for food-filled pantry

Rocky Top residents speak to council about a food pantry for the community. (photo:Crystal Huskey )
Rocky Top residents approached council last month to request a location for a new mini-mobile food pantry.

The pantry is a cupboard, built by Vicki Massey and a few others in the community. Similar projects have been taken on in other towns, including in LaFollette, where the Campbell County Baptist Association calls it a Blessing Box. It’s unlocked and filled with dry goods. Massey would like to eventually place blankets in it as well.

But between last month and this month, Massey said that she felt like the city was pulling back from their promise to support the pantry.

“I know there’s gonna be pros and cons and we’ll deal with those,” she said. My question is, where are we gonna put it?”

Her vision is to simply provide food for Rocky Top residents that are hungry, in an easily accessible, no frills, no questions asked environment. City officials, including Police Chief Jim Shetterly, have concerns about that, particularly if it’s placed on city property.

That’s because of the large amount of people in town that have been banned from city property.

Most of those people are homeless, and if they walk onto city property — near city hall or the library, for example — they could get arrested for trespassing. They have also been banned from a large number of businesses in the area for panhandling and loitering.

He said that last year the police department received 128 criminal trespass calls from areas stretching from the library through the business district.

“I’m not against this,” Shetterly clarified, “but I think if you’re putting this up in a business district, you’re gonna get a lot of opposition from businesses. You’ll get a lot of calls of people just hanging out there. If a child comes to grab food… Unfortunately that’s not who you’re gonna see there most of the time.”

Massey, however, doesn’t have the homeless in mind necessarily. She’s more concerned for children who spend a lot of time at the community center.

Massey, along with volunteers who attending the meeting with her, city council, City Manager Michael Foster, public works employees and Shetterly then spent a long time discussing a location that would work.

In the end, a motion passed to set up the pantry at the corner of Main Street, at the entrance to the ball field, and the George Templin sign. The pantry, which will have “feed my sheep” written on it, is 24-inches wide, and from the box to the ground is 3 feet.

It has a slanted roof and is 18-inches deep. It will also include contact information for people who need further assistance.

One volunteer with the group stated that his primary concerns is the children. He said he knows kids that go to school with his own children that do not eat outside of school.

City councilman Brian Brown said he would personally take care of getting it installed.

“We can try it there, and if it becomes a nuisance, we can move to Plan B,” he said.