(Editors note: Sarah, Carol and Michael are three of approximately 950 Hamblen County residents – almost all children – who are receiving Food on Foot bags. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.)

Carolyn Jarnagin says a fundamental goal at Food on Foot in Morristown is ensuring the children who receive food baskets understand they’re getting a hand-up, not a handout.

Sarah, Carol and Michael, who Jarnagin, Food on Foot president and founder, describe as “stair-step children ranging in age from about 7 to 11, accept the generosity as intended.

Food on Foot, which donates food Hamblen County school children most likely to go hungry without weekly a hand-up, has been providing food to the siblings for about four years, and barring an unforeseen change in circumstances, Sarah, Carol and Michael won’t be free from the threat of hunger any time soon.

Jarnagin say she and her husband, Bobby, have grown to know and love Sarah, Carol and Michael. In the days before health professionals began to strongly discourage hand-to-hand contact, the children would give Bobby Jarnagin high-fives. When the overhead slap landed solidly, he’d say it “hurt my biscuit.”

The three children giggled gleefully, took their food bags and said they’d be back. The Jarnagins are also well-acquainted with children’s lone caregiver, their grandfather. The grandfather reported care of the children fell to him because “everybody else is in jail,” according to Jarnagin

During a recent food distribution at the agency’s headquarters on Berkline Drive, Jarnagin heard Sarah, Carol and Michael’s shouts as their grandfather’s vehicle rolled forward in the line. Sarah asked if she and her siblings could come and live with Jarnagin.

“But you’ve got a good grandfather,” Jarnagin replied. “He loves you … Sarah said, ‘But you have plenty of food,’ and that broke my heart.”

She says Michael tried to move past the awkward moment by saying that, of course, their grandfather would come along. Then Carol joined the conversation.

“I’m afraid I’m going to get sick,” she said. “Will you bring me some food if I get sick?”