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.
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.
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.