After a year of COVID-19, Hands On Nashville and Second Harvest Food Bank have learned to adapt

food donations
Posted at 5:51 PM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 21:19:06-05

NASHVILLE — A year ago this Friday, Tennessee reported the first known case of COVID-19 in our state. This came just two days after deadly tornadoes swept through our area.

Hands On Nashville and Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee thought they were ready.

"We are prepared with disaster boxes, we have plans in place," said Ally Parsons, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for Second Harvest.

"A massive amount of activity all over the city," said Lindsey Turner, Director of Communications for Hands on Nashville.

COVID-19 brought a storm, neither had ever faced. "The brakes got slammed," said Turner.

The pandemic meant both organizations could no longer rely on massive crowds coming to volunteer. "The higher the group number ticked, the more people said -- I don’t think I would join that," said Turner.

Hands On Nashville decided to cap each volunteer group to just 15 people with social distancing in place. Second Harvest reduced their number of volunteers too and provided PPE for those who came to help sort and stuff boxes. They also switched to drive-thru food distribution events. "So the client could stay in a car, and a volunteer or staff person would be able to load the food resources into the trunk of the car or back seat of the car," said Parson.

The real trouble for Second Harvest came when businesses started shutting down and the paychecks stopped for millions of Americans.

"Increase in demand, a decrease in donations and what were we going to do about it?" said Parsons. "We were luckily able to work together and with the amazing support of the community, the donations came in and we’ve been able to keep up with that."

But Parsons says the struggle to keep up with demand remains an issue even now. "We’re looking at this as a potential where this increase could be our new normal and we need to be able to respond to that," she said.

As the pandemic continued, Hands On Nashville became the life-blood of Metro's COVID-19 response. At first, they provided staffing for COVID-19 call centers, drive-thru testing sites and other resources.

Later, they made up 80% of the volunteer staff at Metro's Mass Vaccination Clinic at Music City Center. 50 volunteers a day, staff everything from the sign-in tables to directing people through the cavernous halls.

What a wild year it has been. But in a time when so many have leaned on these organizations to survive, they give the credit right back to you.

"As food bankers, we’re resilient," said Parsons. "We have faith in our community that they will support us, and we know our ability to be able to provide support to those in need -- so that’s unwavering."

"So much has happened and we’ve learned so much about our own organization, but also our community," said Turner. "We just keep relearning that people in Nashville want to help."

For both organizations, the need for volunteers is constant.

To sign up to volunteer for Hands On Nashville, click here.

To volunteer, donate or receive help from Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, click here.