Fresh Wagon Feeds ‘the Lost and Forgotten’ in Tennessee

Glenmary News

Fresh Wagon Feeds ‘the Lost and Forgotten’ in Tennessee

Glenmary Father Neil Pezzulo gets excited when he talks about Fresh Wagon. It’s a mobile food pantry, partnership in Union County among St. Teresa of Kolkata Catholic parish, Union County Health Department, University of Tennessee Extension Office, American Cancer Society, the Union County government and Union County school system.

Father Neil says there are six other major food pantries in the county, and Fresh Wagon works around those schedules to be open when the others are closed. Sixteen out of every 100 people there live in poverty, about 3,300 people.

Distribution typically takes place the third week of the month on Tuesday. As the Fresh Wagon is mobile, it moves around the county. In just a couple hours, the Fresh Wagon volunteers feed 100-130 families, staying until the trailer is empty.

“It’s primarily fresh vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber,” Father Neil says. “There’s always a fruit like bananas, oranges and apples, and I insist on a treat, like a cookie. We also try to buy from local farmers as much as we can. We buy eggs, milk, and hamburger from local farmers. Next month we’re buying 100 chickens from a local farmer. We’re trying to get as much local farmer involvement as possible, because that keeps the money in Union County.

“It’s become part of the landscape in town. People know the Fresh Wagon,” he says. “They call to make sure they have the right dates and times and they know that we’ll give whatever we have.” 

Most of the volunteers at distribution are parishioners, but Father Neil stresses the effort is a partnership. Father Neil manages the ordering of food and when not in use the trailer resides at St. Teresa of Kolkata. Often the health department will be present, handing out information on diabetes or administering flu and COVID vaccines.

Father Neil is passionate about the Fresh Wagon ministry, seeing it as following in the footsteps of three important people: “Pope Francis speaks of going to the peripheries,” Father Neil says. “Jesus spoke about the lost ones. [Glenmary Founder Father William Howard Bishop] spoke of the lost and forgotten. The lost and forgotten are the poor. They’re out there and not many are paying attention to them.”

When the people come, Father Neil and the volunteers greet them with smiles, food, and sometimes invitations to learn more about the parish. This further cements to the people of the largely non-Catholic county that Catholics are part of the community, and participants in facing food insecurity.

“The best thing for me is I’m getting to know a whole bunch of people I’d have no access to otherwise. Now I get to meet them regularly and they get to become friends.” 

—John Stegeman