Business profile: every can counts, Sevier County Food Ministries

ZZ SMARTR donation to Food Ministries

Jim Davis receiving donation from SMARTR

Someday I want to be as happy doing what I do as Jim Davis is about what he does. What does he do? He gives away food. Lots of it. Sevier County Food Ministries gives away 1,600–1,800 grocery bags of food each week to families in Sevier County.

I caught up with Jim between him receiving a $500.00 donation from the S.M.A.R.T.R. Networking Group meeting in Pigeon Forge and picking up 3,500 lbs of canned goods from Second Harvest in Newport. He greeted me with a big smile and enthusiastically showed me around.

The ministry’s facility, located next to the Sevier County fairgrounds, was buzzing with activity. Clients were picking up food and shopping in the thrift store while volunteers were conducting interviews, packing grocery bags, moving stock and training new volunteers. Several of the volunteers that day were from St. Joseph the Carpenter Episcopal Church. It turns out that Friday is their day each week and other churches have their own day.

“We need 25 volunteers just to open the doors every morning,” Jim tells me. He has been the ministry’s director for the past two years. “We have 150 regular volunteers.  Some come every day and some a few hours a week. We need packers, interviewers, thrift store people, warehouse people. Every day it is amazing to see the volunteers gather like a family and very quickly everyone finds their niche.”

Jim got started in the Sevier County Food Ministry as a volunteer when it started as a nonprofit in 1992. He started out stocking shelves but soon he was involved in every aspect of the ministry. His father was a postal carrier and when the postal carrier’s food drive began, his father asked Jim to help organize it in this area. That year they got eight tons of food and Jim called in the Boy and Girl Scouts to help out. It became obvious that Jim had a knack for this kind of thing. He had been the sports director for The Mountain Press for 22 years and then the public relations coordinator for the City of Gatlinburg. He therefore knew all of the attraction owners, business operators and hoteliers in the area. When the previous director retired in 2012, he was the natural choice to become the new director.

The ministry provides supplemental food to families in need. “We help about 5,000 people each week,” he said. “Anyone can come. We do short interviews just to make sure there is no duplication with other ministries and give everyone a card that tells us how many people are in that family. That way we know how much and what kinds of food go into the bags.”

Many come regularly, 40 or more times a year. Some just a few times a year depending on how much work they can get. “We won’t see some people for a whole year but they still keep their card,” Jim said.

The ministry is supported by over 60 churches in the area and the business community. “Businesses realize that many of the people who come here are their employees. Many of these people have 29 hour a week jobs.” That is the maximum number of hours the employer will give them because it they worked more they would be entitled to benefits. “We also see seasonal differences because this is a tourism economy. After the first of year we will really pick up.”

A great help to the ministry are businesses that hold special fundraisers or food drives. “Lumberjack Feud held a canned food drive for us and collected 21,560 lbs of canned goods,” he said. “Dixie Stampede did the same and collected 50,000 lbs.”

So is food the best thing people can donate? “Food is good,” Jim says, “But cash is better. My mom taught me how to coupon so she was training me for this job from a young age.” He laughs. “I see a deal and I jump on it. We can get food from Second Harvest so much cheaper than you can. We can buy peanut butter for 90 cents. In the store it will cost you $2.00. We can buy saltines for 19 cents a box when it will cost you $2.00. Kroger will sell us Raman noodles at a nickel over cost and Walmart will donate food rescue to us.” That is food where the package was damaged or the “best use” date is coming up.

“But we will use anything. Hampton Inn gave us 150 comforters when they replaced theirs and people really needed those when it turned cold. Wilderness Resort gave us 300 bed spreads. We can use anything. Kids come in here with shoes duct taped together. We provide a thrift store with very low cost items and we turn all the profits into food.”

How are things shaping up for Christmas? “We did 2,291 bags in 14 hours at Thanksgiving. People were lined up all the way to the street when we opened. We will do 2,700 bags the week of Christmas. We really need volunteers and donations. Every can counts,” Jim said. “And every dollar counts.”

To make a donation, volunteer your time or sign up for assistance, contact

Sevier County Food Ministries at 890 Old Knoxville Hwy., Sevierville, TN 37864 or call 865-428-5182 or visit SevierCountyFoodMinistries.org.

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