Category Archives: COVID-19

Volunteer Andrew Befante trims tree debris.

After losing friends in the March 3 tornado, local musician and bartender turns to service to help others

By Ben Piñon HON Disaster Response Coordinator AmeriCorps member

Thousands of Nashvillians rushed to volunteer in the wake of the March 3 tornado. Andrew Benfante wasn’t one of them. 

“I didn’t have the emotional energy to do it,” Benfante says. “Normally I do — I like volunteering, I like helping people, but the time wasn’t right. Then COVID happened and the time really wasn’t right. It was kind of a hectic time for me, so I stayed away from everything.” 

Volunteer Andrew Benfante
removes storm debris from a
home.

Six months and a global pandemic later, Benfante is more than ready. He has now volunteered on four of HON’s debris-removal workdays since cleanup projects resumed in late June. Some days he has worked both the morning and afternoon shifts — cutting apart a mangled fence or moving heavy logs that came down in the storm. All for fellow Nashvillians he’s never met. 

Back in March, Benfante narrowly missed the worst of the damage where he lives in Germantown. He was out of power for four days. But that was just the beginning. The tornado had also taken not only his job, but two of his friends. 

Benfante worked at Attaboy, an East Nashville bar damaged by the tornado, which is still undergoing repairs. It’s also where he met his friends and co-workers, Michael Dolfini and his fiancée, Albree Sexton. They were all hanging out together shortly before the couple lost their lives in the tornado.

“He called her his hippie wife,” Benfante remembers fondly, “they had been together for so long.” 

“It was a tough night,” Benfante recalls, describing the Attaboy staff as a small, tight-knit group. He had left the bar only 30 minutes before the tornado touched down. “Those were some sad phone calls to make in the middle of the night. Calling just to see how everything was going, finding out that it wasn’t going well.”  

Volunteer Andrew Benfante
removes a wheelbarrow full
of storm debris from a home.

Benfante moved to Nashville four years ago. Like many, he came chasing music dreams. Just last year, he walked away from a band he had played with for eight years. Doing so led to a more recent reassessment of several aspects of his own life. Volunteering has been a really healthy part of that process, he says. 

Through his struggles over the past few months — navigating a pandemic, scraping by on unemployment, grieving friends — Benfante remains grateful for what he has to give.  

“I feel like if I have the time that others may not, I should freely give that time to the community while I’m being taken care of, at least temporarily,” he says. 

Giving back has left Benfante hopeful and inspired, humbled undoubtedly by the way he’s seen the Nashville community persevere in the face of tremendous challenges. 

“I think the less afraid we are of new things, of change, and each other… I think the more we trust each other, trust that everything balances out when it’s all said and done, the more joy we can find together as a community,” he says. “That’s most apparent to me right now in the kind of volunteer work that Hands On Nashville does. I’m happy to be a part of it.” 

Visit hon.org to find volunteer projects that meet critical needs in our community.

Sponsor spotlight: Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group

When a tornado devastated parts of Nashville on March 3, 2020, leaders at the Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group knew they wanted to do something big to help with the recovery effort. The company donated $120,000 — its largest ever one-time gift — to Hands On Nashville to support its mission to meet community needs through volunteerism. 

“We have been following along with Hands On Nashville’s efforts for years,” says John Gallagher, Vice President and Executive General Manager of Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group. “And knowing that recovery from the devastating tornados would take months — if not years —we knew it would require lots of volunteer hours. Hands On Nashville seemed like the perfect fit for our donation.” 

The donation directly supports ongoing tornado-relief efforts, including paying for supplies and staff salaries spent on disaster-recovery activities. 

“The support from the Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group is a game-changer for our tornado-relief efforts,” says HON President and CEO Lori Shinton. “Those funds are going directly to recruit and manage volunteers who are doing the important work of helping people put their lives back together after a major disaster.” 

For more than 25 years, Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group has had an active role supporting Middle Tennessee charities.  

From being the first corporation to enroll in Waves Office Recycling Program, to assisting those who lost their vehicles in the 2010 flood, to now supplying personal protective equipment to Williamson Medical Center – DWAG aims to be a company that cares about helping others.  

Gallagher says the company focuses much of its outreach and resources into two major programs, Hometown Heroes and Darrell Waltrip Automotive’s Drive Away Hunger Challenge

Hometown Heroes is a program honoring those who have shown a commitment to serving others and making a difference in their community. Community members nominate individuals, and each month a new hero is selected by DWAG, which makes a $500 donation to the charity of that hero’s choice.  

Volunteers of Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group participate in a breast cancer awareness fundraiser.

“One thing we learned through our Hometown Heroes event is just how many amazing people are at work in our communities, and how they are making a difference in big ways,” Gallagher says.  

This spring DWAG had planned to celebrate their 100th hero, but, due to COVID-19, plans have been tentatively postponed until May 2021.  

The company created Drive Away Hunger in 2013 as a fundraising event partnering with Williamson County high schools and GraceWorks. Through Drive Away Hunger, hundreds of thousands of pounds of food have been collected and donated to food pantries throughout Williamson County. The initiative has since expanded to include the Franklin Special School District and Williamson County elementary and middle schools.  

“We are so proud of all we have done in the community, and thankful for our customers who make it all possible,” Gallagher said.  

The automotive group’s first dealership – Darrell Waltrip Honda – opened in 1986. Since then, they’ve opened three more dealerships across Middle Tennessee.  

For more information about Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group’s history of service, click here

Darrell Waltrip Automotive – Disaster Relief Donation To Hands On Nashville

Darrell Waltrip Cares logo

Join us for an online celebration of outstanding volunteers!

Back in the spring, due to COVID-19, we postponed the 34th Annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards until September. Because coronavirus cases locally and nationally continue to rise, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Strobel luncheon. But don’t despair — we are still going to celebrate this year’s outstanding nominees and their impact! We’ll just be doing it digitally, which means you can celebrate those who go above and beyond from wherever you happen to be.

We hope you’ll join us!

When: Sept. 14, 15, 16 

Where: On hon.org and our social media channels: InstagramFacebookTwitterLinkedIn

What: We’ll honor this year’s nominees and finalists by sharing their stories of service through written stories and video. Plus we’ll announce the recipients in each of the six award categories. 

Are you a nominee? Or a general ticket holder?

If you did not receive an email from our team with information and next steps on what to do as a nominee or a ticket purchaser, feel free to check here, or reach out to us at hon@hon.org for further assistance. 

Survey shows volunteers want to help, but are concerned about exposure to COVID-19

In June, Hands On Nashville invited community members to take a survey gauging their thoughts and attitudes toward volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hope was to get a clearer picture of how volunteers felt about weighing the risks of volunteering against the expanding needs in our community, so that we can work with our nonprofit partners to carve out safe and impactful ways volunteers can help Nashville get through this tough time.

Thank you to everyone who took the survey and shared their thoughts with us! 

The survey was completed by 223 individuals, the majority of whom identify as having volunteered through HON before.

Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 7.41.54 AM

Respondents indicate an increased desire to volunteer in part because of events including the March 3 tornado. However, more than half of respondents also report worrying that volunteering will increase their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Respondents also report that they don’t necessarily have more time to volunteer now than they did earlier in the year, before the tornado and pandemic hit. A solid majority indicated they would volunteer more once the pandemic was over.

Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 7.42.12 AM

We asked respondents to evaluate a handful of volunteer scenarios and and gauge their comfort levels with each. Overall they reported greater comfort levels with outdoor projects and projects capped at 10 people. Their comfort levels fell the larger the project attendance grew. Respondents also report feeling much more comfortable volunteering at a project where all the other volunteers are known, as opposed to volunteering with a group of strangers. (To create a volunteer team that can sign up for projects together, click here.)

Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 7.56.34 AM

We asked respondents to share any additional thoughts they had on volunteering during the pandemic, and several respondents replied that they are in a high-risk category — either through their age, their baseline health status, or both — and do not feel comfortable volunteering. A good portion of Nashville’s volunteer base is retirement age, so we anticipate this consideration is having a substantial impact on the number of overall volunteers serving at this time. Some respondents also replied that they are a caretaker for someone in a high-risk category, and do not want to expose themselves for fear of transmitting the virus to the high-risk person in their care.

Several respondents also commented about how they would prefer to volunteer remotely — from home or delivering things in their car — during this time. (To see a roundup of virtual volunteer projects, click here.)

Some other comments:

I’m more than willing to volunteer as long as I am protected and those around me are as well. If proper guidelines are being followed and there aren’t a mass of people on top of each other, I would also feel comfortable.

I would absolutely love to help, but until the pandemic is over, I am extremely uncomfortable participating in any volunteering event where I’d be in close proximity to anyone else, especially if they aren’t required to wear a mask at all times.

I, like many, am unsure of what to do. Really want to volunteer, but unsure if bringing myself into a scenario will put others at risk. Also, unsure if I will need to limit my exposure to my workplace or to family, etc. as a result.

There is no question that fear of COVID-19 is limiting my willingness to volunteer these days though I have made some food deliveries and done a few solo clean-up projects.

I am reluctant to be around individuals I do not know. I am learning more and more that many people are being quite cavalier about their exposure to COVID-19.

I have less time with kids home and a son with a mild heart condition. So, I can possibly do things out of my house or where I can run around in my car (with some of my kids possibly). My kids would like to help as well, just worry about Covid right now.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) updates for volunteers and public gatherings

UPDATE 10:46 p.m. Friday, July 3

Nashville transitioned back to a modified version of Phase Two today. Information about the specifics of the modified phase guidelines can be found here. Guidelines for group sizes remain largely the same — gatherings are capped at 25 people — but we encourage volunteers to wear masks, practice proper social distancing, be vigilant about hand washing, and conduct as much business outdoors as possible.

UPDATE 1:51 p.m. Friday, June 26

As the city of Nashville moves into Phase Three of Mayor Cooper’s Roadmap for Reopening Nashville, guidelines for volunteering and group size remain largely unchanged from Phase Two. 

We’ve added a COVID-19 section to our website at hon.org/covid19. There you will find the latest updates about volunteering, and opportunities to support disaster relief during this time.

UPDATE 3:47 p.m. Wednesday, June 10

Volunteer project guidelines and parameters are evolving as our city continues to move through the phases of reopening. Here are some things to know about volunteering during Phase Two of Mayor Cooper’s Roadmap for Reopening Nashville:

  • A wider variety of projects is available on hon.org, including park cleanups, community garden prep, and more. Check out our calendar to see what’s coming up.
  • The attendance cap on projects has been raised from 10 volunteers to 25, and we have asked our partners to only recruit for the number of volunteers they can accommodate while still heeding social distancing guidelines.
  • Our partner agencies are working to ensure that projects are safe for volunteers, staff, and the community. We have added a question regarding safety to the feedback survey we send out after every project, so if volunteers feel unsafe we can address those concerns on a project by project basis.
Thank you, volunteers, for all you’re doing to help meet needs in our community!
  

UPDATE 12:27 p.m. Tuesday, April 7

Volunteer Tennessee has issued helpful guidelines for those wanting to volunteer safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read and download them here.

UPDATE 12 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

The situation regarding COVID-19 precautions and how they affect tornado relief efforts is changing rapidly. HON continues to work with OEM and city health officials to evolve our disaster response efforts in real time.

Some measures we are taking to help keep community members safe:

— We are asking our partners to post only volunteer projects that pertain to meeting urgent needs in the community, which we are defining as food and shelter. We are collaborating with our partners and others in the community who are doing this work to identify how volunteers can best support them and be safe at this time, and will provide updates as we have actionable information that meets safety guidelines.

We are urging our partners to limit group sizes at projects to 10 people for the next 15 days, at which point we will evaluate whether this time period needs to be extended.

— We are continuing to ask volunteers who feel unwell to rest at home rather than attend projects.

— We encourage volunteers to use their own discretion when deciding whether to attend a volunteer project.

— We are working on identifying ways volunteers can help our partners remotely during this time.

UPDATE 7:06 p.m. Thursday, March 12

HON is working closely with OEM and the city as the COVID-19 situation evolves. As a result of the health department’s recommendations, we’re looking at a number of adjustments heading toward the weekend:

—  limiting the maximum number of volunteers at projects to 50

— stocking projects with hand sanitizer

— requesting that volunteers who feel like they’re getting sick rest at home instead of coming to projects

Please make sure you read the information at this link and continue to heed best practices regarding limiting contact with others, washing hands, etc.

Volunteers who feel unsure about exposure risk and would rather not chance it should feel free to go to their hon.org accounts and remove themselves from projects.

HON will continue to provide updates and evolve plans as needed in collaboration with the city of Nashville, OEM, and the health department.

Original post on Wednesday 3/11 at 12:25 p.m.:

As concerns grow about the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and the Nashville Public Health Department have shared following information and resources:

Basics that are always best practice:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly (at least 20 seconds, with soap)
  • Don’t touch your face, especially with unwashed hands
  • Minimize hand-to-hand contact with others

Additional information:

Show of Hands Week Day 4: Join the local mask-making movement

Between May 1-7, Hands On Nashville will highlight ways to stay connected and serve your neighbors even as our community honors social distancing guidelines. Check back here and on our social media channels to join in our #ShowOfHandsWeek: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

MasksNOW is a nationwide grassroots organization that sprang up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The local chapter — MasksNOW TN — has received requests for more than 12,000 masks from more than 26 facilities and essential workers across Tennessee, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

You don’t have to be a sewist to volunteer with MasksNOW, as there are many types of roles that help power their efforts, including fundraising and administrative tasks. Register now and join the more than 118 Tennessee volunteers who already have signed up.

We talked with Brenda Gadd and Katrina Henderson, the Tennessee state leads for MasksNOW, to discuss their organization and how individuals can get involved.

Can you tell me more about what types of volunteer roles you’re looking for? 

BG: We definitely need sewists. We’ve had over 10,000 calls for masks — and that’s being conservative — so we do need sewists doing the work, but there’s also distribution, and needing volunteers to pick up materials or have them mailed. The more sewists we get, the more capacity we will have and the more entities we can reach out to.

How did you begin recruiting volunteers for MasksNOW TN?

BG: We quickly found there are a lot of folks out there who want to help, or who are already sewing but they need to know how to connect with resources. That’s really what this does in a simple way — it allows the volunteers to take control of what they want to do and match with the need. Once we get a volunteer in our system, we can get you materials and match you with donations.  

Can you tell me a little more about the masks?

KH: These masks are for anyone and everyone; we don’t discriminate about who we give them to. We are doing a lot of work with Room In The Inn, the homeless population in Nashville, and they’re all free.

BG: Right. We don’t sell them, these are all volunteer made, and we’ve been trying to collaborate with local businesses as well. We’ve set up partnerships in the community with people who donate one mask for every mask sold. 

What can volunteers expect after they sign up? 

KH: Volunteers should expect an email within 48 hours of signing up, welcoming them and telling them how it all works. They’re also welcome to reach out to me directly at KatrinaTN@masksnow.org  if they have questions.

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

TODAY’S ACTIVITIES (MAY 4): Join the Mask Making Movement

As health officials recommend wearing face masks in certain public places, the need for widespread availability of masks is crucial. Here are three ways you can help:

  1. Volunteer: Organizations including MasksNOW and Make Nashville are sewing for a cause and aiming to slow the spread of COVID-19. If you’re interested in volunteering with one of these partner organizations, click here.
  2. Donate money or materials: Both MasksNOW and Make Nashville accept donations of money and items to help them meet their missions. Learn more about donating to Make Nashville hereLearn more about donating to MasksNOW here.
  3. Make your own masks for personal use: MasksNOW has provided patterns for those handy with a needle or without. And for some helpful safety guidelines, see the CDC’s recommendations here.

#ShowOfHandsWeek Activities

FRIDAY, MAY 1: Raise your hand and tell us why you choose to be a helper

SATURDAY, MAY 2: Sign up to serve as a volunteer in May

SUNDAY, MAY 3: Bring color and hope to a neighbor with flowers 

TODAY: Join the local mask-making effort

TUESDAY, MAY 5: Give thanks for those on the front lines

WEDNESDAY, MAY 6: Find a virtual volunteer opportunity

THURSDAY, MAY 7: Support volunteerism and Hands On Nashville via The Big Payback

Project Connect continues efforts to feed hungry families in North Nashville

When a tornado touched down March 3 and left a 60-mile path of devastation through Middle Tennessee,  Project Connect Nashville knew what it had to do: Serve hot meals to North Nashville residents whose neighborhoods had been badly damaged.

The day after the storm, PCN — whose mission is to build relationships with individuals stuck in a cycle of poverty and connect them to the faith community, living wage jobs, and stable housing — established a central command for recovery, food, and supplies distribution.

PCN employees Quanita Thomas and the Rev. Ella Clay were essential in startup operations. Clay offered the church at which she pastors, the Historic First Community Church at 1815 Knowles St., and Thomas assisted with making connections in the neighborhood, helping even though her own home was damaged by the storm.

PC_6
Volunteers feed those in North Nashville following the March 3 tornado. [Project Connect Nashville]
Volunteers immediately began tracking of the needs of the neighborhood’s residents: Who lived where, how many meals each house needed, and even whether a home had names to add to their ongoing prayer list. The first two weeks after the storm were the most demanding because many of the homes did not have power, said Laura Ingram, PCN’s North Nashville Location Manager.

“We have about 400 addresses of people who we try to feed multiple times a week,” Ingram said. Those residents include families and those whose mobility is limited, such as seniors and individuals with disabilities, who otherwise would not have been able to access food in the wake of the disaster.

PCN, in partnership with Just the Crumbs — a faith-based mobile food unit from Columbia, Miss. — now serves and delivers meals five days a week, and offers essential resources to the community two hours a day at its North Nashville Resource Center at 1811 Knowles Street.

PC_4 (1)
Just The Crumbs is a disaster relief ministry that has been aiding PCN with food distribution efforts in North Nashville. [Project Connect Nashville]
When COVID-19 got a foothold in Middle Tennessee two weeks after the tornado and more people began staying at home, Ingram says PCN’s volunteer numbers began to dwindle. But she and her colleagues continued their efforts.

“Serving people food was something we really felt we needed to keep doing as it’s too risky for the elderly and disabled to get out and shop for fresh foods,” Ingram says.

As a precaution, PCN is limiting volunteer groups to six people, who are asked to maintain a safe distance when delivering meals. The organization provides gloves, and volunteers are asked to bring their own masks if possible.

“These volunteers are invaluable to us because PCN feels it does take a village to love this wide variety of people and neighborhoods,” Ingram says. “It’s something we can’t do alone, but together we are able to check on everybody and make sure no one is falling through the cracks.”

The idea for Project Connect Nashville was birthed out of the 2010 flood, when PCN’s executive director, Alan Murdock, coordinated recovery in partnership with the East Nashville community through his garden center in Five Points. The organization has now opened campuses in South and North Nashville, and offers classes to provide knowledge, skills, and encouragement, while offering a faith community to support individuals through life’s joys and struggles.

To volunteer with Project Connect Nashville, sign up here. For a list of needed donations, click here.

For the Community Resource Center, volunteers are key to meeting critical needs

The days since a tornado tore through Middle Tennessee just over a month ago have been long and exhausting for Tina Doniger and Maria Amado, who serve as the executive director and board chair, respectively, of the Community Resource Center. The CRC, which regularly supplies basic essentials to agencies serving vulnerable populations in more than 24 counties, was activated following the storm to serve as Metro Nashville’s collection and distribution point for donations deployed to survivors throughout the region.

For Doniger and Amado, even though the days sometimes blur together, it’s the acts of kindness and generosity that stand out.

Amado shares the story of Levi, a 3-year-old boy who came to the center with his grandmother to drop off donations.

“Levi is about 3 and a half, 4 years old, and he is sucking his thumb,” Amado recalls, retrieving a sandwich bag of coins and dollar bills from across the room. “And he had emptied out his piggy bank. For the kids who lost their homes.”

89606135_10156553595441442_4762251259539357696_o
Joe Pollard, left, hands the keys of his newly donated truck to the Community Resource Center’s Maria Amado, center, and Tina Doniger, right.

Then there’s Joe Pollard, president of the Bank of Odessa, Mo., who, upon realizing the CRC didn’t have a box truck of their own, donated the one he had driven down to donate supplies. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that left Doniger and Amado speechless.

The stories of generosity add up — volunteers who came for two hours and stayed for two weeks, those who took time off from their own jobs to volunteer, those who donated knowledge and skills to help the CRC expand its reach — and take the shape of a community pulling together to make an impact far greater than could have been made by one or two individuals.

As COVID-19 sent shock waves through the region, complicating tornado relief efforts and compounding community needs, Doniger says the CRC has continued to evolve its disaster response to meet those rapidly shifting needs.

“The service we provide is essential for people moving forward,” says Doniger — who is the CRC’s sole paid employee. “There’s now even more added pressure on the people who have been serving, and more added pressure on us to find people to help.”

Keeping volunteers healthy is top of mind for Doniger, who says she provides every safety measure she can for volunteers. She provides gloves, masks, and disinfectant. Within the warehouse, volunteers stay apart, sorting their donations on their respective shelves. Donation drop-offs are now conducted without any person-to-person contact.

“The only way to keep going is for people to help us do the work,” Doniger said. “If we don’t continue doing what we do, we won’t be prepared to service the people. As long as we are healthy, and we can open this door, we are going to serve people no matter what.”

To aid the CRC in its mission of serving those in need, sign up to volunteer here.

A letter from our CEO regarding confirmed COVID-19 case

We received news today that a volunteer who served at Greater Heights Missionary Baptist Church has been diagnosed with COVID-19; they volunteered there on several occasions during the initial tornado relief response and were last there Saturday, March 14.

Since COVID-19 can be spread from contact with contaminated surfaces, as well as person-to person, we are notifying all Hands On Nashville volunteers who registered to participate at Greater Heights from March 5, when they opened for tornado relief, to present. The church is ceasing volunteer activities at this time and will remain closed to volunteers for two weeks.

Please continue to closely monitor how you’re feeling and reach out to your medical provider with any concerns. The health and safety of our volunteers, community partners, and neighbors-in-need remains our priority as always, and most especially, during this difficult season.

With much gratitude,
Lori Shinton
Hands On Nashville President & CEO

COVID-19 Update: Staying Safer at Home

We’re writing to share some information regarding Mayor Cooper’s Safer at Home order from Sunday, March 22.

This order asks us to stay inside our homes and immediately limit outside interaction to essential activities only. (Think groceries, prescription refills, picking up take-out, and walking the dog.) On those occasions when you are out of your home for necessary tasks, stay at least six feet away from others.

This will further impact volunteer projects, so you may hear from us about additional cancellations and rescheduling.

Here’s the link to the full order and some information you need to know:

If you have lost your job or income due to layoffs associated with the COVID-19 crisis, you can find updated information about local job openings and opportunities here.

YOU CAN … 

  • Go to the grocery, convenience or warehouse store
  • Go to the pharmacy to pick up medications and other healthcare necessities
  • Go to medical appointments (check with your doctor or provider first)
  • Go to a restaurant for take-out, delivery or drive-thru
  • Care for or support a friend or family member
  • Take a walk, ride your bike, hike, jog and be in nature for exercise — just keep at least six feet between you and others.
  • Walk your pets and take them to the veterinarian if necessary
  • Help someone to get necessary supplies
  • Receive deliveries from any business which delivers

YOU SHOULD NOT … 

  • Go to work unless you are providing essential services as defined by this Order
  • Visit friends and family if there is no urgent need
  • Maintain less than 6 feet of distance from others when you go out
  • Visit loved ones in the hospital, nursing home, skilled nursing facility or other residential care facility, except for limited exceptions as provided on the facility websites.

For more information, please see the frequently-asked questions on the City of Nashville’s COVID-19 Response page