Rocky Top leaders put mobile food pantry front-and-center

Aside from approving the budget for the City of Rocky Top, the main topic of conversation at last Thursday’s council meeting was how to deal with the “blessing box” that was set up near the Rocky Top library a few months ago.

The brainchild of Rocky Top resident Vicki Massey and a few others who were concerned about the lack of a grocery store and access to food, the mobile food pantry was installed at a location that was easily accessible.

The library was selected because children were often nearby, and the organizers wanted them to be able to grab snacks or drinks if they needed them.

“I think it’s been a success,” said Massey. “I knew there’d be pros and cons.”

And there have been, as Massey acknowledged. Multiple councilmembers had personally seen individuals drive up with a van and load up all the contents of the box into their vehicles.

Massey’s main concern on Thursday was the way the box looked. It’s leaning back and looks like it’s about to fall over, according to Massey.

Rocky Top Councilmember Brian Brown asked if he could pour concrete so that the structure would be more permanent and less likely to tip over.

“We knew it would be abused, and it has been,” said Brown.

“I’ve seen a van pull up as we filled it; he pulled everything out and took off. But I’ve also seen kids get Gatorade and a snack that I’m sure didn’t have the money to get it.”

Rocky Top Police Chief Jim Shetterly said that the library director has been “complaining hard.”

“As a Christian man, I can’t believe she feels that way,” Brown said.

“She don’t own that building. As a taxpayer and citizen of this town, we own it.”

City Record Kari Hancock acknowledged Brown’s point, but told him that the director has to deal with it on a daily basis.

“She’s having issues with them coming in, falling asleep at the computer and making giant messes in the bathrooms,” she said, referring to the homeless that come for the food at the box.

Councilmember Juston Job asked if the discussion could be tabled until a community survey was completed.

“I’d like to see if we were willing to do a survey, to see if the community likes it or not, and I think they will,” he began.

But City Manager Michael Foster interrupted him to inform him that the location itself has become the problem. City councilmember Denise Casteel asked if the box could be moved to a different location and see if that helped, but the location was chosen because of the proximity to the kids.

“I’ve decided in this town, you can’t help the needy for the greedy,” Massey said.

Brown said at the end of the conversation that he would fix the box.