Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

For more than two decades, youth in Macon County have been participating in the 30 Hour Famine each year to raise awareness about hunger in the community and around the world. During the event, youth from Macon County collect donations for Macon County CareNet and World Vision while going without food for 30 hours.

“The 30 Hour Famine brings awareness to our community that hunger and food insecurity are not issues that only occur in some other part of the world but are taking place right here in Macon County,” said Macon County CareNet Executive Director Don Capaforte. “Many of the young people who participate have a life-changing experience that leads them to try and figure out ways to make an impact in the lives of others.”

In 2016, CareNet distributed 394,324 pounds of food through the food pantry to individuals and families in need. CareNet also delivered 19,478 backpacks through the Macon County backpack programs with local schools. CareNet also served 7,519 lunches in their Soup Cafe.

This year’s 30 Hour Famine was able to collect 4,338 cans for CareNet, which includes more than 500 cans collected by Smoky Mountain Chevrolet; 449 cans collected by Fox Mercantile; and 836 cans collected by Mountain View Intermediate School. First United Methodist Church’s “Penny and inch” campaign raised $338.50 which contributed to the $5,218.72 total with was donated to CareNet. The event also collected $2,957 for World Vision, which fights hunger around the world.

During the 30 Hour Famine event, 68 people participated in the Mann Poverty Simulation: 14 children (5-11), 49 youth (6-12); and 118 adults volunteered over the weekend. In addition to collecting donations, 390 backpacks were assembled for CareNet; 130 hygiene bags were assembled by MVI; 20 health kits, 28 school kits and two bedding kits assembled for United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR); 21 paw prints painted for Appalachian Animal Rescue; 10 puppies walked, fed, cages cleaned, and cuddled for Appalachian Animal Rescue; 26 greeting cards made for local nursing home, seven advocacy letters written to senators and representatives regarding children and hunger; and one garden bed was sifted for Share and Serve Garden.

Nick Potts, owner of Fox Mercantile, was once one of the community’s youth who participated in the famine and now as an adult, used his downtown shop as a drop off point to collect donations.

“I used to participate in the famine when I was younger and it left a lasting impression about world hunger,” said Potts. “I guess that was really the start of my mission work that led me to various towns in the southeast and then to Guatemala where I actually saw it in a third world reality, where people truly depended on the weather and many other factors to put food on the table. Fortunately in Franklin, we have people who are willing to step up and operate organizations like CareNet.  We’re very fortunate to have organizations like that to help put a dent in local hunger, but many people still go hungry here in our hometown.  It’s astounding when people see the statistics.  You think, ‘wow, I would have never imagined that in my town.’  But it’s real, and it’s up to us, the citizens, to pick up the slack.”

Potts said helping with this year’s 30 Hour Famine only encourages him to do more for the community for which he lives.

“After the church service yesterday, I realized that I need to do more, that we all need to do more,” said Potts. “And to see the reactions from the kids who packed the hygiene bags for kids that they probably go to school with, it was humbling.  It’s always humbling when we truly see how good many of us have it, and how we often forget about those who don’t have as much.  We need these types of events to bring us back to the ground and raise awareness for things like hunger, education, and clean water.  After all of the places I’ve been, I realize that they all go hand in hand.  Without clean water and food, kids will be sick and then can’t attend school.  Without school, they may not know why their water is polluted or how to get the maximum harvest out of their crops.”

Macon County CareNet serves hundreds of families in the community who need a little extra help. From providing meals through the facilities food pantry, to hot lunches at the organization’s soup kitchen, to sending food home with Macon County children through the weekly backpack program, Macon County CareNet works to fill a void in the community.

During the February meeting, the Franklin Town Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a street closing request from CareNet to close down Iotla Street on Sunday, May 21, for a community dinner.

CareNet plans to serve a family-style dinner to around 200 guests along Iotla Street. Each dish will be provided by local restaurants and prepared offsite. The event will also include auction items donated by the community to raise additional dollars for the non-profit.

“This event is special because we need to always remember that there are people, and especially children, all around us that are hungry and in crisis,” sad Don Capaforte, executive director of CareNet.

Tickets for the dinner will be $50 per person or $500 per table, which includes eight seats. Table sponsors will be featured in the event’s program.

Guests will have the opportunity to learn more about CareNet’s ministries, ongoing needs, and its impact on the community. Proceeds will provide operational support for ministries like CareNet’s food pantry, backpack program, and more.

CareNet is currently looking for auction donations and for local restaurants to support the dinner. Businesses can donate items for the auction by calling (706)483-9392 and restaurants can donate a dish for the meal by also calling that number.

Individuals and organizations can help underwrite the event by donating at a variety of levels. For more information, contact Capaforte at (828)369-2642.