Hundreds Volunteer For Nashville Food Project

Posted at 10:35 PM, Jul 22, 2016

Volunteers have been making the Nashville Food Project happen.

One group of volunteers has been the Friends Life Community, a day program that has involved adults with intellectual disabilities in their community.

On a sun-soaked summer morning at an urban garden off of Wedgewood Avenue, one group of clients weeded the chard bed, while another group tended to the chickens that have been raised at the garden, too.

"Honestly, without our volunteers, we wouldn't be able to do anything that we do," said Kia Brown, the Garden Coordinator for the Nashville Food Project. 

While the volunteers have helped with the dirty work of growing food, the activity served another purpose for those who work the sprawling rows of plants and vegetables. 

"We're trying to bring a lot of dignity back to free meals, while also incorporating different volunteers, organizations, and people in Nashville and bringing them together," said Brown.

Another group of volunteers can be found in the prep room of the headquarters of the Project.

The room has been bustling with sound and excitement. The radio played mp3's of classic soul and oldies music as volunteer LaDonna Powers made her way through bushels of fresh veggies.

Powers explained, "The vegetables come from our garden, and we clean them up and we slice them, chop them, and get them ready for our cooks."

The Nashville Food Project has also received donations of fresh food from a variety of gardens, grocery stores, and farmer's markets.

"They can't sell a dimpled eggplant, even though when you peel it, it's beautiful and perfectly edible," said Judy Wright, a community volunteer and board member of the Project.

What has made the meals at the Nashville Food Project has been thanks in part to another group of volunteers: the chefs working the kitchen.

"We take a lot of pride in making really good healthy food. Everything we make is from scratch. We're not dumping it out of a can," said Teri Sloan, the Development Director of the Nashville Food Project.

Volunteer chefs take the prepared ingredients of that day and make hot meals that go to more than 20 non-profits and organizations in the Metro area.

"People are amazed at times on how good the food actually is!" Sloan also said the chefs do such a good job that they've been asked to make a cookbook to feature the non-profit's tasty meals.

"We haven't quite gotten there yet. We'll see if we ever do!" Sloan said with a laugh.

A group of volunteers has also helped to transport the meals with two food trucks specially outfitted for transporting meals hot.

In fact, one of the trucks has gone back to the Friends Life Community. There, the program has taken donated meals where it's used in a community simulation. In it, the clients order the food as they would in a restaurant, helping to work on communication skills that transfer over to real-world situations.

"We actually go out in the garden, and we get to see the fruits of our labor here," said Jim Victor, the Health & Wellness Specialist for Friends Life.

Over 600 unique volunteers a month have been helping the Nashville Food Project deliver the thousands of fresh meals that the whole system produces.

Marilyn Lane explained why volunteering has been beneficial for her:

"It's critical for me because I'm retired, and I needed to be doing something, otherwise I was just sitting at home," she said.

Lane also added the fellow volunteers and staff make the work rewarding.

"To be able to do something that's actually good, and to meet wonderful people, and to work with a staff that makes you want to keep coming back and coming back, it's fantastic!" she said.

"One of the best ways to make friendships and foster friendships is over a meal. That's where a lot of relationships are built, so we know food is such a powerful tool in building community, and that's how we use it," said Sloan.

For more information on the Nashville Food Project, click here.