- In 2023, the Community Trust donated $18,000 total to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga and the Chattanooga chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
- In total, the Community Trust donated more than $437,000 to Tennessee nonprofits in 2023.
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and Sleep in Heavenly Peace are working to improve the health and wellbeing of Chattanooga-area residents. Here’s how the BlueCross Community Trust is supporting their efforts.
Feeding a growing need
Chattanooga Area Food Bank
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank (CAFB) distributed 18 million pounds of food in 2023. That’s more than any other time during its 50-year history – even more than during the pandemic.
The organization serves a 20-county region covering about 7,000 square miles. In that area, about 170,000 residents are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to enough quality, nutritious food.
“As a nation, about 1 in 6 individuals have food insecurity, ” says Kathy Martin, community engagement manager for the CAFB. “We know that there are pockets of our region where the numbers are actually 1 in 3.”
To get food out to those in need, the food bank stores and packages food for distribution through 250 hunger relief partners. These nonprofits include churches, schools and mobile pantries. It also distributes food through its own food pantry, the Foxwood Food Center.
“We originally set up Foxwood during the pandemic as a way to distribute emergency food assistance to those experiencing food insecurity,” Kathy says. “We thought we would serve 1,500 guests a month there. In recent months, we’ve seen guest counts of more than 4,000.”
When guests arrive at Foxwood, they are given a cart with a 22-24 pound box of emergency food that has been pre–packed at the warehouse. It has protein items like peanut butter and canned meats, as well as canned goods and pasta. Guests can then shop the pantry for fresh produce, vegetables and other items that meet their individual or family needs.
BlueCross has been a major supporter of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank for many years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation gave $750,000 to the organization to help keep shelves stocked. And BlueCross employees have supported the food bank with donations from an annual food drive for several years.
Last year, 376 TeamBlue employees volunteered a total of 1,432 hours with the food bank at both the main warehouse and Foxwood locations.
“We’ve calculated that every volunteer hour equates to groceries for 84 meals,” Kathy says. “So, BlueCross employees have enabled us to deliver more than 120,000 meals to those in need.”
In 2023, the BlueCross Community Trust awarded a $10,000 grant to support the food bank’s Hunger Relief Conference, which brought together hunger relief partners to share strategies for combating the growing food insecurity in the region.
“We are extremely grateful for the support BlueCross and its employees provide that allows us to meet the growing need of food insecurity in our region,” Kathy says.
Building and improving “home”
Habitat of Humanity of Greater Chattanooga
While it has built 300 homes since its founding, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga is not immune to the economic pressures impacting the housing market.
Like many other areas of the country, Chattanooga has limited land available for new single-family housing. In addition to the scarcity and rising cost of land, construction prices have skyrocketed.
“Our homebuilding model is based on acquiring land and then building a neighborhood of homes very efficiently,” says Ryan Weseloh, director of development at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga. “Today, getting new, large parcels of land is extremely difficult and costly.”
Responding to the demand for maintaining current housing, Habitat has expanded its services to home repair through its Critical Home Repairs program.
“There are many situations where residents, especially elderly residents, have owned their home for 30-40 years, but can no longer maintain it with the income that they have,” Ryan explains. “Since it started, our program has provided repairs to 100 homes for low- to moderate-income households.”
BlueCross has been a long-term supporter of Habitat through monetary awards and employee volunteers. In 2023, the BlueCross Community Trust awarded $5,000 to Habitat to support stable and healthy housing. And 11 TeamBlue volunteers built walls for a home under construction in the Alton Park neighborhood. Recently, BlueCross also donated 300 office chairs and 150 pieces of art to Habitat’s ReStore shop. Proceeds from the items sold through the shop go directly into building and repairing homes in the area.
“The BlueCross donation to ReStore was the largest number of items coming from a single entity that anyone here can remember,” Ryan says. “We are very grateful to BlueCross for supporting Habitat across the board.”
Providing beds to children in need
Sleep in Heavenly Peace
Since its founding in 2019, the Chattanooga chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace has built and delivered more than 3,600 beds to children who didn’t have one. It all started after Bob Hirschi, then a construction company owner and volunteer with the homeless, decided to bring the organization to the city.
“We build and give away beds with new mattresses, new bedding – everything for children 3 to 17 years old who don’t have beds,” Bob says. “Too many children are sleeping on sofas, sharing beds or sleeping with Mom and Dad. We’re working hard to give children an appropriate place to sleep.”
All bed requests come through the organization’s website. About 10 percent are referrals from a school, the Department of Child Services or other agencies. The other 90 percent heard about the program through a friend, a family member or through social media.
“We pre-visit every home before we deliver a bed,” Bob says. “We make sure the need is real and that the child is over three years old. We also talk to the parents about the child who will receive the bed. We try to match the bedding, either through color or character themes, to what he or she likes.”
“While we are all volunteers and don’t actively fundraise, both are vital to our ability to meet the need for beds in our community,” Bob says. “Because of the support we’ve received, we delivered over 1,100 beds in 2023.”
BlueCross learned about Sleep in Heavenly Peace through an employee, Terrilyn Craig, who had volunteered with the organization. That led to a $3,000 grant from the BlueCross Community Trust and an employee bed–building event last November involving more than 50 TeamBlue volunteers. The trust also gave $2,000 to the organization’s chapter in Columbia, Tenn.
“We used the grant money to buy materials which we brought to BlueCross,” Bob says. “We had two shifts of employees who built 50 beds right in the BlueCross parking lot.”
To be eligible for grants from the BlueCross Community Trust, nonprofits must focus on:
- Charitable clinics
- Chronic disease management
- Diversity and inclusion
- Youth development
For additional information on eligibility criteria and application deadlines, visit BCBST.com.