MEET OUR DIRECTOR
Jim Wright is the executive director of FISH Hospitality Pantries. More than 35 years ago, while volunteering with other food pantries, Wright was disturbed by a policy of blacklisting certain people who had been accused of "taking advantage" by coming to pantries for food too often. He decided to visit these families and
found that all of them had such low incomes and resources as to be considered destitute. Turning them away seemed contrary to the biblical mandate to feed the hungry.
With a founding vision of suspending judgment and welcoming everyone without condition or restriction, Wright and his fellow Church of the Ascension parishioners established the first FISH Hospitality Pantry in East Knoxville in 1986.
To make food assistance easily accessible to those in need, Wright developed the model of locating pantries in low-income neighborhoods and of treating pantry guests in a way that was “as nourishing as the food they received.” He believed that reducing the separation between the poor and the affluent members of the community is good for everyone.
He called the first pantry The Last Resort FISH Pantry, but it soon became the pantry many chose as a first resort because of the hospitality that volunteers extended. Over the years, Wright’s vision of hospitality, welcome, and inclusiveness has led Hospitality Pantries to launch multicultural programs designed to break down barriers and build true community. Volunteers and guests sharing with one another and working together
for economic equality reduces small-mindedness, fearfulness, isolation, and loneliness and encourages less self-centered lives. It also increases a sense of belonging, security,
and collaborative fulfillment. •
Soon after its 1986 founding, FISH Hospitality Pantries quickly attracted members of many
Christian denominations and other faith traditions
who shared hospitality values to join the work.
Today, more than 50 churches, synagogues,
temples, mosques, and other faith centers
actively support the pantries. Many businesses
and organizations also support our work with donations and volunteers.
FISH Hospitality Pantries prides itself on being
a true community of volunteers. We are a non-
profit, interfaith organization led by a board of directors. Steering committees made up of
volunteers direct the operations of individual
About a third of our pantry volunteers first
visited a FISH pantry as guests. Their personal knowledge of hunger gives them invaluable insights, which ensure that our pantry procedures and policies reflect respect for the dignity of
Over the years, we have seen how the volunteer-centered approach at FISH Pantries can have
a ripple effect, becoming the impetus for driving
positive change across the greater Knoxville area. Many volunteers use the experience, knowledge,
and leadership skills developed at FISH to
improve lives in their own neighborhoods or
to join other community efforts in support of compassion and justice for all. •
FISH Hospitality Pantries volunteer
“What do you ‘get’ at the FISH pantry? If you are a volunteer, you will receive the gift of watching the eyes of a child light up as he or she gets a bag of nutritious snacks, complete with a sticker on the bag. You will see the eyes of a young mother fill with tears as she realizes she will be able to feed her family that day. You will see the amazement on the faces of new guests when they realize there is nothing they have to prove, no story, no ID, nothing. Just go through the line and pick out groceries. You will hear one guest tell another that ‘this is the nicest place to be.’”
FISH Hospitality Pantries volunteer
“I think I am drawn to the pantry because of my childhood experiences. I know what it is like not to be able to communicate because of a language barrier; that’s why I love the teaching model (You Teach Me/I Teach You) at the pantry. New immigrants and native English speakers learn from each other. All I do is help facilitate the process. For new immigrants, learning English is a matter of survival; for native English speakers, learning Spanish shows acceptance and a willingness to integrate with us. I am grateful for that and very happy to share my native language with them.”