On Jan. 18, AIO Food and Energy Assistance hosted its first "Fill The Strand" food and funds drive to benefit AIO’s Food Assistance, Energy Assistance and Weekend Meal Programs.

The goal was to fill every seat in the theater with a bag of food or funds for food. With the community's support, AIO was able to fill the theater over three times.

The event was a collaboration with the Strand Theatre and Allen Insurance and Financial, which provided an opportunity for the community to participate in a safe way. The Strand Theatre had the door open and the lights on for one of only a few times in the last 10 months.

“While the pandemic has temporarily closed the doors to the theater, the work of the Strand carries on in new and creative ways — and this effort was no exception,” shares Executive Director of the Strand Jessie Davis.

“As a community mainstay, it made absolute sense for the Strand to partner with other deeply-rooted community institutions, AIO & Allen Insurance and Financial, to provide an extra lift to our friends and neighbors in these difficult times!”

Allen Insurance and Financial employees were there to help greet, collect and sort incoming food donations. The community donated more than 2000 pounds of food, which was sorted and integrated into AIO’s warehouse by the end of the day. More than $27,000 in financial donations were raised, and with the food collected, it will go to AIO’s programs that support Knox County families.

Altogether, more than 245 people or organizations contributed to Fill the Strand’s success.

AIO Board President Liz Jenkins said, “We are amazed by the day and the show of support from all corners of the community, especially our partners. I think we have all been craving an opportunity to 'do' something, something meaningful and joyful outside of our own walls, during a year when we’ve been at home so much.”

“We're grateful we could play a part in a very special day, one that showed our community at its best," said President Mike Pierce of Allen Insurance and Financial. Allen Insurance and Financial, was a collection site in the weeks leading up to the event, in addition to having a team of volunteers on the day of the event. Main Street Market also served as a collection site.

To view a full gallery of photos from the "Fill the Strand" event, visit aiofoodpantry.org.

Funding and access to AIO’s programs are critical, as food insecurity in Knox County is projected to increase 46% overall. Knox County currently has the fourth highest food insecurity rate in the state. Child food insecurity is projected to reach 28% (a 52% increase). Since Jan. 1, AIO has supported 1547 individual households and has distributed 290 meal kits each week during the school year.

AIO’s Energy Assistance Program helps households with heating assistance or electrical disconnection prevention. Last winter, AIO distributed 450 energy assistance vouchers, totaling $108,000 in support.