By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Editor’s Note: This is the third 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.
As a student at Northeast State Community College, Bri McMillan has done her share of volunteer work to fulfill course requirements, but much of that work wasn’t very fulfilling for her.
Sure, she was happy to lend a hand, and she knew the work she put in was helping others, but she had a hard time getting personally invested in what she was doing. Each assignment ended with a reflection paper, and McMillan said she struggled to find the motivation to write about the work she had done.But that all changed last month when she was assigned to volunteer at an organization that addresses a social problem. McMillan picked Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, where she quickly felt a connection to the people she was helping during one of the organization’s many food drives.
The folks at Second Harvest had no way of knowing why McMillan was so drawn into helping those who struggle with hunger until her last day when McMillan casually mentioned that she used to received food from Second Harvest’s Food for Kids Backpack Program when she was in elementary school.
“Me and my sister both got one, so that was extra food for our family because my mom didn’t have a lot of money,” McMillan said. “That was always really exciting. That’s what we looked forward to every Friday, and I always knew there was going to be pudding cups in mine. And then on the bus, me and my sister, we would just trade stuff. It was just exciting. It felt like you were getting a gift or something.”
McMillan had initially applied to help with the backpack program, but the food drive was in greater need of volunteers. However, once she told the folks at Second Harvest that she benefited from the program, she was able to tour the area where the backpacks are assembled and prepared for distribution.
“I was looking around, and I was just thinking sometimes the people that volunteer here, I’m sure that they don’t know how much that does make somebody’s day,” McMillan said. “Those little kids are so excited. Looking around at all the boxes that had the backpacks, it just made me very emotional because these people are doing good work, but they probably don’t realize how much that does change somebody’s day or weekend or life even.”
McMillan has come a long way since receiving help from Second Harvest back in elementary school. She’s wrapping up her final semester at Northeast State and preparing to transfer to ETSU to finish her college education. Beyond that, she wants to use her education to help form public policy.
But first, McMillan wants to return to Second Harvest, possibly with her youngest sister, to do some more volunteer work over the summer. She isn’t required to do so, and yet, she is compelled to give back. Memories of being a 7-year-old who viewed every Friday afternoon as if it was Christmas morning are spurring her on to help a new generation of local children and families who don’t have enough to eat.
“I know how it feels to not have enough and then to get food,” she said. “Somebody just gives it to you and doesn’t expect anything else after.
For more information on Second Harvest of Northeast Tennessee, visit www.netfoodbank.org.