T he Nashville Food Project (TNFP) has a problem that most non-profits would love to have. The opportunity to be a part of TNFP’s work is so popular that the volunteers who help them deliver over 600 meals a week to Nashville’s homeless and low-income neighborhoods have to RSVP. Executive Director Tallu Quinn explains what makes TNFP so successful, saying, “We would be nothing if it weren’t for the gifts of our community…people’s time and their energy and their passion and talent for what we’re trying to do.” For TNFP, those gifts range from food that is gleaned from the generosity of local farmers, restaurants, and markets, to the volunteers who turn that gathered treasure into home-cooked meals.
For starters, volunteers maintain the two gardens that supply a variety of fresh produce for the weekly meals TNFP creates. The non-profit currently maintains the Wedgewood Urban Garden, as well as a garden that is located at Woodmont Christian Church, the site of the TNFP office and kitchen. In fact, it was the bounty coming from their gardens, along with the food being gathered from local farmers and markets, that prompted a major shift in focus for the non-profit. TNFP began as an affiliate of Mobile Loaves & Fishes and, in 2011, it became its own local entity. Quinn recalls the change, noting, “We had access to all of this fresh food that we were growing, and then we had to go to Sam’s and buy all this turkey. We said, ‘This is crazy.’ And so we really made this beautiful shift to serving hot, nutritious meals, and we can make them for virtually pennies because we’re using food that would otherwise go to waste.”
A huge part of the success of TNFP has to do with the organizational expertise of its staff, which is the major reason the non-profit can engage so many volunteers. Quinn explains that volunteers “grow the food, they glean the food, they sort the food, they wash the food, they prep the food, they cook the food, they load it onto the trucks, and they distribute the food from our food trucks.”
One way to get acquainted with the work that TNFP is doing is to join them for Project Potluck, the official name for their monthly gatherings, which began at the Wedgewood Urban Garden. The idea behind these potlucks is to bring people with means together with the folks who are receiving meals. As Quinn explains, “We’re trying to blur those lines.”
TNFP is currently delivering lunch and dinner daily to about thirteen neighborhoods. A real advantage of being mobile, Quinn points out, is “that we’re able to serve people who are off the radar in what truly might be under-served areas.”
The Nashville Food Project, including volunteer opportunities, can be found at www.thenashvillefoodproject.org.