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There's a good chance that a meal served to a needy or homeless person at the Love Kitchen, Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries, or the Salvation Army came in some way courtesy of the small army of ska music fans from around the world that converges on Knoxville every year.
Ska Weekend has raised fundsâ"and collected foodâ"for the local office of a national network of food banks called Second Harvest since the inception of the event five years ago. People coming to the all-day music festival are instructed to bring five cans of food as part of the cover charge, along with $15 for the 30-band, four-stage show.
The agencies mentioned above are just some of the better-known local meal outlets under the Second Harvest distribution umbrella. â“They are but three of 300,â” says executive director Elaine Machiela.
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee is part of a national network that began in the '70s. The Knoxville office collects surplus food to be distributed to on-site feeding agencies and church pantries across an 18-county area.
â“It was started to keep millions of pounds of food out of dumpsters (grocery store and restaurant waste) and into the hands of those who needed it,â” Machiela says. In the quarter-century since her branch was established, food distribution has increased from 350,000 pounds to 10.5 million pounds. That translates to â“about 7 million meals.â”
The Second Harvest director was a little mystified when she first heard about the young man who wanted to host a â“skaâ” festival and have her organization named as the beneficiary. Ben Altom's proposal was to include canned food as part of the cover charge and give the proceeds to the agency. Moreover, â“I had never heard of ska music,â” Machiela recalled. â“My teenage daughter was mortified! I had no idea where it would go, but we welcome anyone who wants to help us.â”
The event has not only helped stock the Second Harvest warehouse, but it also allowed Machiela to discover that she likes this goofy, exultant music.
â“It is feel-good music at its best and there is so much positive karma that comes from the happening,â” she says. â“Our research shows that for every dollar donated to Second Harvest, we can provide four meals.â”
However, a great need remains: â“There were 150,000 requests for food. Just in June.â”
A musician himself (his band, the now-defunct Perfect Orange, was probably the first homegrown East Tennessee ska band), Altom's own favorite anecdote about the event he founded isn't about playing music or hanging out with fellow musicians. It was an incident that put a very human face on the problem he dedicated Ska Weekend to alleviate: hunger.
â“A kid who had been coming to our shows for years walked up to me after the 2004 festival. He loved Perfect Orange; he loved the music; all-around great kid. He walks up and thanks me for the festival. I said, â‘well, thanks, man. We are playing next week, too. Come say hey.' And he tells me I didn't understandâ"his family had been living off Second Harvest food for three months. Our festival that day was going to feed his family.â” â" J.R.
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