Hunger Ministry seeks new home, county plans building demolition

The Claiborne County Commission adopted a resolution in December to purchase the property at the corner of Main and Montgomery Streets in Tazewell so that the U.T. Extension Office can expand its services. The plan is to demolish the existing building, constructed in 1948, in favor of replacing it with a multi-story structure.

This is creating a problem, however, for the Claiborne Hunger Ministry, which is housed inside the existing building.

According to county mayor Joe Brooks, the Ministry has until the end of the fiscal year, or June 30, to relocate.

“We’re willing to work with them if they’ve got something in the works by then and just need a little extra time to complete the move,” said Brooks.

He says the Ministry has not been charged any rent or utilities since January.

“They were paying rent before the county bought it. The county is not charging anything so that they can save that money to go towards rent and other operating costs when they find a new location.

“We would be happy to do some sort of partnership, but we don’t have an empty space. That’s why we are trying to do our best part to make sure they have all the time – six months since the purchase – to find a spot.”

Ministry administrator Jerry Nienas says it’s been hard-going in the search to find a suitable building or space that would allow the nonprofit to remain within the general vicinity of its current location.

“In its 28 plus years in existence, the food pantry has been in the position of having to find a different home no less than four times. This service, so vital to many in our immediate area, is in danger of having to close its doors until or unless appropriate facilities can be secured,” said Nienas. “Because (we) do not receive federal aid, the Ministry operates only on donations of food, cash and the occasional grant from the county.”

Nienas says a space of about 1,500 sq. ft. would work.

The nonprofit receives a yearly charitable contribution of $1,200 from the county coffers.

Brooks says he is willing to act as a liaison but that “the county has no leverage with any property owners” who might consider renting, leasing or possibly donating a spot for the Ministry.

He was asked why demo the existing building.

“For sure, there are significant mold and mice problems. All you have to do is walk into the building and smell whatever’s happening in the crawlspace,” said Brooks.

Nienas spoke of the urgent need for this type of ministry.

“A lot of people out there are hurting and hungry. If we don’t come up with something that is suitable for us, we will have to close the doors. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Nienas says a charitable tax deduction could be taken if a property owner was willing to donate or charge low rent for a suitable space.

The Claiborne Hunger Ministry is currently located at 211 Montgomery St. in Tazewell. The nonprofit was organized in August of 1992 by Beth Hunley of Knoxville while working for Share Food Bank, the predecessor of Second Harvest.

From its inception, the late Marie Noe spearheaded the operation as a very hands-on manager of the nonprofit.

The Hunger Ministry serves approximately 150 families each week, who live for the most part in Claiborne County. However, anyone who comes is served. The nonprofit does require a home address and the number of family members including how many are seniors and children within the household.

The Ministry is open each Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The nonprofit is always in need of volunteers.

Anyone interested in providing a relocation spot may call Nienas at: 423-489-5983.