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Pantry for county's hungry children celebrates opening

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The Whole Life Market's food pantry. LAURIE EVERETT / The Wilson Post
Julie Wharton LAURIE EVERETT / The Wilson Post
Andrew and Julie Wharton of Life Assembly Church. LAURIE EVERETT / The Wilson Post
Supporters lay hands on and pray for the Whole Life Market in Mt. Juliet at it's official opening. LAURIE EVERETT / The Wilson Post

Just before the sky opened and let loose a deluge Sunday afternoon, a very special little cabin on the grounds of a Mt. Juliet church was celebrated as a new food pantry for some of Wilson County's estimated 5,200 hungry children.

It's a statistic many question in what is denoted one of Tennessee's more affluent communities. But, Life Assembly's Julie Wharton knows firsthand there are hunger pains right here in our midst.

"From what I'm told, 30 percent of the Wilson County School System's students are on free and reduced lunches," Wharton said.

Whole Life Market is a food pantry at Life Assembly Church on Pleasant Grove Road open to families once a month who are enrolled in the Wilson County Backpack Program. Wharton is wife to Life Assembly pastor Andrew Wharton.

Wilson County is a microcosm of the wider issue that one in four children in Tennessee are at risk of hunger, according to Wharton. While Wilson County is one of the most affluent counties in Tennessee, according to Second Harvest Food Bank, it still has pockets of families who are below the poverty level and have a hard time affording groceries and providing nutritious meals, if any.

Because of this, Wharton, for the past several years has worked closely with the system's Backpack Program and said Wilson County is the only school system in Tennessee that has every school covered by the program. Volunteers at each school work with Second Harvest Food Bank and provide each week a backpack full of food and toiletries to targeted at-risk students. Wharton specifically works with Stoner Creek Elementary and Wilson Central High School.

This Saturday, she and many other volunteers cut the ribbon and opened Whole Life Market, which is located in a donated cabin on the grounds at Life Assembly. It's open to all families enrolled in the Backpack Program, said Wharton.

"The purpose of the Whole Life Market is to feed the whole person, body, mind and soul," said Wharton. "When you feed the body, you nourish the mind and uplift the spirit. In an effort to help alleviate childhood hunger in Wilson County, our market supplies the Backpack Program, and at the same time, will offer assistance to the families of these students."

She said each month these families are able to "shop" for food for their family and receive fresh produce and other healthy food options.

She's partnered with the Wilson County Extension office to offer free cooking and nutritional education as well.

Pastor Wharton spoke to a huge crowd gathered to celebrate the new food pantry.

"There is childhood hunger, here," said Wharton. "Nobody in our county, state or country should go to school hungry. We are trying to give them an opportunity. To fill in the gaps."

He said the pantry would not have been "a dream come true for this mission" without the donation of the cabin from the Fosters, a local family.

Mt. Juliet City Commissioner Art Giles came to the opening.

"This makes me and everyone very happy," he said. "This helps the entire county. Kids will now be able to learn better. This is truly what God intends for us to do."

On July 25, Life Assembly's Mobile Food Pantry will open at 9 a.m. and offer free haircuts for school-aged children and free schools supplies (while supplies last) to anyone in the county. Please register for this at 758-7779.

However, Whole Life Market is open to families in the school system's Backpack Program. They are eligible to "shop" at the market once a month. Whole Life Market is open on Fridays. Call 615-758-7779 to set up an appointment and for more information.

Writer Laurie Everett can be contacted at laurieeverett1@gmail.com.

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