By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about local hunger heroes, people in our region who have taken action to help combat hunger in our community by partnering with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee in a variety of ways.
When Kathi Baty was a young girl, she remembers her father telling her she’d best eat her dinner because there were starving children in China.
It’s a message most folks hear from their parents starting at an early age, a message that makes hunger seem like a vague and distant problem confined to the developing world. But in reality, hunger is a problem that afflicts many folks right in our own backyard, a fact Kathi Baty and her husband Rock became keenly aware of when they attended a fundraiser for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee back in 2007.
Both Rock and Kathi admitted they hadn’t heard of Second Harvest of Northeast Tennessee before attending the event with some friends. But when Rhonda Chafin – the organization’s executive director – made her presentation, the impact was immediate.
“She was so passionate, and the message was so simple, in terms of the mission,” Rock said. “There are hungry people out there in the eight-county region and our mission is to secure food and distribute it to them. It’s that simple. You can really get your heart and mind around it very quickly.”
It was the thought of local children enduring hunger in particular that led Rock and Kathi to become involved.
“When we were exposed to child hunger – food insecure kids here – you think about how you get up and give your kids great breakfast, send them a wonderful lunch, and they come home for dinner,” Kathi said. “When you’re a parent and you’ve been able to meet the needs of your kids – just think of parents who are not able to do that. Then it’s easy to say I’m on board. Whatever it takes to not have kids right here in our community that are going hungry.”
After that fateful fundraiser in 2007, Rock and Kathi both took action to help Second Harvest complete its mission of fighting hunter in our region. Rock contacted Chafin and offered to bring his extensive business experience to Second Harvest of Northeast Tennessee’s board of directors, an offer Chafin accepted. He went on to serve in that capacity for about seven years, a stint that included two years as the board’s president.
“I thought immediately of board service because I really felt like I could add some value and be helpful to Rhonda and the team out there in terms of my business career and with respect to oversight and input relative to looking at it from a business perspective,” Rock said. “We’re blessed with a wealth of nonprofits in this community, but the food bank seems to fill our cups, so to speak.”
While Rock served on the board, Kathi focused on feeding children in Johnson City. She worked with fellow members of Grace Fellowship Church to prepare bags of food for children in need at Mountain View Elementary to take home with them each Friday afternoon. That mission eventually expanded to include regular food distribution over the summer, and Second Harvest came on board to help facilitate both programs.
“You go over to Mountain View, and you hear teachers say some of these kids are putting scraps of food in a napkin and bringing it home for the weekend, then coming in on Monday and saying, ‘I’m hungry. I didn’t get enough to eat all weekend,’ ” Kathi said. “Just think about that.”
In addition to their service, Rock and Kathi have also made it a priority to support Second Harvest financially, both on a regular basis and as a part of their estate planning. As far as legacies go, the Baty’s are adamant that fighting hunger is something they’d be proud to be remembered for.
“We’re both Christians,” Rock said. “We both take what Jesus said in scripture seriously about our responsibilities of meeting the needs of those in need.”
For more information on Second Harvest of Northeast Tennessee, visit www.netfoodbank.org.