Before Chris and Elaine Whitney moved their family to Franklin in 2004, they were struggling.
Chris had recently lost his job, and they had a child born with spina bifida.
“We were in a food stamp line for six months,” he said.
Through their experiences, the Whitneys grew an understanding for how it feels to be beaten down and discouraged.
After moving to Franklin in 2004 to start a church, they founded One Generation Away, a faith-based food distribution nonprofit, after the 2010 floods.
The organization has grown tremendously, more than doubling the amount of food given away during weekend mobile pantries from 2.5 million pounds in 2019 to 5.3 million pounds in 2020. And they’re still growing.
A large part of One Gen Away’s mission is disaster relief.
“I’d be willing to go in three months after a disaster, once everyone else has started to pull out. They still need help,” Chris explained. “In the beginning, you need cooked meals. That’s not what we’re doing.”
One Gen has outreach partners in Panama City, Florida; Houston; and Huntsville, Alabama, among other cities, since it operated food pantries there after natural disasters.
“It grew organically,” said Juliana Stachurski, a One Gen Away board member and replication committee member. “It’s become very clear, as we have grown, people say, ‘I need this in my hometown.’”
Stachurski first became involved in the nonprofit after serving with two of her eight children at a food pantry so they could get community service hours for school.
Chris asked for volunteers in Columbia the next weekend, and Stachurski’s boys wanted to go. She didn’t think they’d actually wake up early on a Saturday, but they insisted on going.
“It took off from there,” she said.
Stachurski’s daughter, Isabella, frequently directs volunteers at the mobile pantries, and her sons are also fixtures at the events, which draw dozens of volunteers to sort and distribute food to hundreds of cars using an assembly line.
Duplicating the successes of the food pantries in new communities will include finding local sponsors, volunteers and managers and training them in a standard of procedures.
“Our goal is to grow a presence in the community so that we can have a way to efficiently move food,” Stachurski said.
As Chris likes to say, “It’s a logistics problem, not a supply problem.”
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the need of communities in crisis. But the Whitneys know there has always been a need in Williamson County.
Chris described hearing a story from a Franklin police officer about encountering a hungry 4-year-old boy walking down the street. The officer found he was one of several siblings in a family where the father had recently abandoned the mother. He then brought the family a box full of food, “and their eyes lit up like it was Christmas. They hadn’t eaten in two or three days,” Chris recalled.
“It was really hard to hide desperation in COVID,” he said.
In addition to increasing the amount of food donated during the pandemic, One Gen also vastly increased the number of emergency food boxes they make to give to Williamson County Schools’ social workers, who distribute them to families in need.
Though they are experiencing some difficulty getting food with supply chain issues and shortages, One Gen is continuing to work on expanding its partner list.
“There’s just no reason for anyone to go hungry in a country like ours where there’s so much abundance,” Chris said.
They have a holistic approach to food drives; the organization may partner with others to distribute information about healthcare, medical programs and educational offerings or distribute backpacks, which occurred during a recent drive at Centennial High School.
One Gen Away’s mission is to “wipe hunger off the face of America.” To do that, Chris has always dreamed of serving 1 million people across the country in one day. Replicating the work in other communities will bring that goal closer.
To make it happen, volunteer help is paramount. Chris is especially passionate about seeing young people distributing food and connecting with their neighbors.
“They get to experience a segment of our society they maybe never have experienced,” he said. “And the people that do know, they really want to take responsibility. They’re the ones that will do something really amazing with it.”
In just three or four hours on a Saturday morning, “you can play a huge part in impacting someone’s life forever, and you’ll never be the same,” Chris said.
To learn more about One Gen Away and see details of upcoming mobile food pantries, visit www.OneGenAway.com.