In the wake of freezing temperatures and winter storms, many of our neighbors were left without adequate food, clothing and shelter. Knoxville entered a declared state of emergency, and our community quickly rallied together to help our neighbors in need. 

United Way of Greater Knoxville (UWGK) coordinated with city and county employees, emergency responders, nonprofit organizations, churches, grocery stores and community volunteers to help meet the needs. The collective support was overwhelming as so many people pitched in by donating, volunteering, transporting goods, spreading the word and more. 

“It was inspiring to see so many people from different areas of our community really come together and use their resources to help their neighbors,” shared UWGK’s President and CEO, Matt Ryerson. “It was deeply collaborative and serves as a powerful testament to the generosity of our community.”

In an unprecedented storm for Knoxville, the 311/211 resource hotline helped more than 6,000 people in four days. With below freezing temperatures, many of our homeless community members faced unbearably cold nights. Something needed to be done; that is why The Office of Housing Stability partnered with Cokesbury Church, Vestal United Methodist Church, and Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church to open three warming centers with beds and basic necessities for people in need of shelter. The Salvation Army opened a fourth warming center in downtown Knoxville. Together, they provided shelter for up to 288 people each day. 

Alongside the warming centers, UWGK sought donations for people staying in the shelters, asking for packaged snacks, ready-to-eat meals, canned goods and fresh foods. Knoxville answered the call, and together, we were able to provide basic necessities to everyone housed in the shelters. 

How Our Partners United to Make a Difference
WildLove Bakehouse made fresh baked goods for each shelter. Crossings Church Knoxville raised over $2,000 in less than 12 hours and purchased food, clothing, and supplies. The Knoxville Dream Center donated 50 full grocery bags of shelf stable food. Trader Joe’s donated three truckloads of fresh produce. Second Harvest of East Tennessee provided emergency food boxes, and Food City donated a gift card for food and supplies. Nolan Sherrill from Central Creamery also cooked 60 warm meals for the Vestal warming center, and Real Good Kitchen made mac and cheese and chili for all 100 people staying in the Magnolia warming center. UWGK team members, along with volunteer emergency responders and many other volunteers, transported donated goods to the shelters.

When sharing about her experience this weekend, UWGK’s Chief Impact Officer, Chrystal Armstrong Brown recalled the moment she delivered donations to one of the local shelters. “One of the shelters offered showers to guests, who didn’t have clean pants to change into. We shared their request and within an hour we were able to take a truckload of brand new clothing to the center.  Every need announced this weekend was met.  It was a beautiful reminder of why we do this work,” said Chrystal. “I am so grateful for everyone who answered the call to help. I am proud to be part of this community.” 

Our community also came together to support people stuck in their homes and people in need of medical assistance. Volunteers transported people to urgent medical appointments and helped Mobile Meals deliver food and check in on homebound seniors, ensuring they were safe and sustained throughout the weekend. 

As the cold weather subsided, the roads became safer and the warming shelters got ready to close. The UWGK team started asking the question: What next? We wanted to keep the momentum of giving going and continue showing up for our neighbors. Many others were eager to keep helping too.

“I have been amazed at the social connectedness of our community and the willingness of our neighbors to step up and help one another,” said UWGK’s Director of Food Systems, Kimberly Pettigrew. “Chefs, churches, nonprofits, government agencies, grocers, volunteers and grassroots organizations have come together in a way that brings joy, develops gratitude and fosters hope.”

Crossings Church Knoxville moved their Sunday service online and encouraged their congregation to get out in the community and serve. Joslynn Fish from South Press Coffee identified the need for mutual aid backpacks for everyone being released from warming centers. The UWGK quickly followed suit, packing 100 backpacks with blankets and supplies for people leaving the temporary shelters.

The collaborative response to the winter storms demonstrated the incredible caring power of our community. As we extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed, volunteered and spread the word. Let this be a reminder of all we can accomplish when we Unite for Change.

There is still so much to do for our community. Donate now to help more of your Knoxville neighbors in need.