Our community, like so many others in our country is home to people who struggle with hunger. Since federal nutrition programs don’t reach everyone in need, food banks help fill the gap. Each year, Feeding America releases a study called Map the Meal Gap to help us better understand how many people in our service area are going hungry each and every day.  Here is some of the data about the eight counties served by Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee.

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2020:

  • 14.9% of all Northeast Tennesseans (75,350 individuals) are considered food insecure
  • 19.8% of children in Northeast Tennessee (19,590 individuals under age 18) are considered food insecure
  • 81% of children in Northeast Tennessee currently live in homes that fall beneath 185% of the Federal Poverty Line-making them eligible for food assistance like Food for Kids Backpacks every other week, free and reduced lunch, and other federal nutrition programs.

Food insecurity describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one way we can measure and assess the risk of hunger.

In Fiscal Year 2020, Second Harvest distributed 12.1 million pounds of food throughout various food bank programs to address the issue of food insecurity within our region.

Hunger in Northeast Tennessee

The following data is from the most recent in-depth Hunger Study which took place in 2014.


Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee serves 82,400 unique (unduplicated) clients annually including 22,359 children and 11,072 seniors over the age of 60.
The number of times individuals are reached through food distributions is 10,900 times in a typical week and 570,000 times annually.
Among all clients, 3 percent are black, 2 percent are Latino, and 91 percent are white.
4.4 percent of adult clients are students.
17 percent of households include someone who is a veteran or who has ever served in the military.
60 percent of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee charitable agencies employ no paid staff and are operated exclusively by volunteers.


87 percent of households report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food because they could not afford healthier options.
77 percent of households report having to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care.
40 percent of households include a member with diabetes.
65 percent households have a member with high blood pressure.
19 percent of households do not have insurance.


Following are the choices client households reported making in the past 12 months:

69 percent report choosing between paying for food and paying for utilities.
70 percent report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation.
77 percent report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine/medical care.
48 percent report choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.
20 percent report choosing between paying for food and paying for education expenses.

88 percent of households reported using three or more coping strategies for getting enough food in the past 12 months. The frequency of these strategies among all households include:

66 percent report eating food past the expiration date;
39 percent report growing food in a garden;
40 percent report pawning or selling personal property;
87 percent report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food;
41 percent report watering down food or drinks;
51 percent report receiving help from friends or family


14 percent of respondents have faced foreclosure or eviction in the past five years.
Among all households served by Second Harvest Food Bank agencies and programs, 42 percent have at least one member who has been employed in the past year.
Among all households with an employed person, the person with the longest employment duration 69% is likely to be employed part-time and 30% full-time.
Statistics are from Hunger in America 2014. This study was conducted by Feeding America using rigorous academic research standards and was peer reviewed by a technical advisory team including researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and the Urban Institute. Nationally, confidential responses were collected on electronic tablets by 6,000 trained data collectors, majority of whom were volunteers.

The study was funded by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The full national report is available on Feeding America at Hunger in America 2014.