the Daily Times
Empty Pantry Fund kicks off Nov. 12
Linda Braden Albert of The Daily Times Staff


As the season of giving nears, the Empty Pantry Fund is gearing up to provide food for the less fortunate in Blount County at Christmas.

"There are going to be 1,424 baskets delivered," said Empty Pantry Fund Chairman Paul Bales. "That's over 63 tons of staple items."

The annual food drive draws over 1,500 dedicated volunteers, who not only contribute funds but also pack and deliver the sturdy food "baskets," which are actually large bags, containing nearly 100 pounds of food each. Bales said this is enough to feed a family of four for over a week.

"Empty Pantry Fund has become a Christmas tradition for a lot of the seasoned volunteers, and new volunteers are added each year," Bales said. "Anyone who wants to help with the packing or delivery should just show up at the Tennessee Army National Guard Armory at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 or 7 a.m. Dec. 16."

He added that those wishing to deliver need a large truck or van.

Toys for Blount County, a project of Junior Service League, are delivered with the food baskets.

Contributions are already being made to Empty Pantry Fund.

"Shades of the Past Car Club has already donated $5,000," Bales said.

"They've really come through for us."

Each year, the club hosts a car show in Pigeon Forge and contributes the proceeds to a worthwhile community program. Empty Pantry Fund and Toys for Blount County, formerly Junior Service League's Toys for Tots, have been the programs of choice for the past seven years, with each receiving $28,200.

Jim Stalsworth, president of the car club, said, "Most all our members are from Blount County, and we want to support programs in Blount County. Empty Pantry Fund is one of the most beneficial things to contribute to. We feel like we can touch a lot of lives by what we do for Empty Pantry."

The annual Maryville Fire Department Bean Lunch to benefit Empty Pantry Fund is set for Nov. 28 at Maryville First Baptist Church.

Steve Hammontree chairs the event. Tickets are $5 per person and are available from any Maryville firefighter, at The Daily Times or at the door.

All funds collected during the Empty Pantry Fund drive are used to buy food for people in need in Blount County.

"People get hooked on Empty Pantry Fund," Bales said. "Once you start, you get hooked. It makes a lot of people's Christmas, to come down and help everybody else. They know they're helping somebody less fortunate. People don't do this for ego, they do it for their neighbors. Nothing feels better than giving back. We're all neighbors and people in this town treat it as such. I've never, ever had a problem getting enough money to buy all this food, and never have I had a problem getting the volunteers."

To get involved

The Empty Pantry Fund distributes food baskets to needy Blount County residents at Christmas. To help, send check to The Empty Pantry Fund, c/o Paul Bales, P.O. Box 9740, Maryville, TN 37802-9740, or leave at The Daily Times, 307 E. Harper Ave., Maryville. Food baskets will be packed at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Tennessee Army National Guard Armory on W. Lamar Alexander Parkway and will be delivered beginning at 7 a.m. Dec. 16.