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Physical plant employees at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Friday accepted the university’s first Volunteer Spirit Award for helping feed the hungry in the area.

Many of the plant’s 420 employees were on hand to receive the award from Chancellor Bill Snyder at a ceremony in Thompson-Boling arena. Individuals and community agencies have benefited over the 19 years physical plant employees have collected food and money to feed the hungry, Snyder said.

The project began in 1981 as a holiday project and now is a year round focus, Director John Parker said.

Word spread over the years about the employees’ generosity. Now, distributing individual baskets of food to individual families throughout the year has become a big part of the effort, he said.

“We started thinking that people are hungry in January and February like they are in November in December,” said Parker.

Knoxville’s Love Kitchen and the Claiborne County Hunger Ministries are recent beneficiaries of the collection effort. Knoxville’s Union Rescue Mission was added to the recipient list this year, Parker said.

Gallon milk jugs placed in physical plant offices fill with spare change year round to purchase food. Other employees bring donations of food as well as clothing and toys.

Pilot Oil arranged a credit system so the volunteers can buy some food at wholesale prices at H.T. Hackney Co., Parker said.

“It’s a team effort. It’s not about one individual. One person doesn’t do any more than another,” Parker said. “And, we have no trouble finding volunteers.

“We are extremely proud of the effort. One thing everybody agrees on — helping someone else makes you feel good.”

The physical plant staff received a plaque and $150, which they plan to apply to their food distribution project.

The Volunteer Spirit Award, given by the campus’s Positive Recognition Committee, recognizes an individual or group who voluntarily performs good deeds above and beyond normal job expectations.

The committee is coordinated by the UT-Knoxville Office of Human Resources Management.

Contacts: Debbie Schriver (974-6657)

                 Linda Weaver (974-2225)