Several members of the Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) — of which Hands On Nashville is a part — reflect on the recovery efforts since the March 2020 tornadoes that devastated many of Nashville’s iconic neighborhoods.
In the video above, several representatives of the LTRG share their stories and updates on how recovery is going: Kathy Floyd-Buggs, Director of Neighborhoods for the Nashville Mayor’s Office; Keith Branson, Executive Director of Westminster Home Connection; Tina Doniger, Executive Director of Community Resource Center; Amy Fair, Vice President of Donor Services at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee; Alisha Smith Haddock, Community-Based Services Director at Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Eileen Lowery, Director of Tornado Recovery Connection at Tn Conference of UMCOR; and Lori Shinton, Executive Director of Hands On Nashville.
Finding and serving tornado survivors — in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and economic crisis, no less — remains the laser-like focus of the LTRG.
The LTRG is a volunteer collaboration of multiple organizations, including but not limited to nonprofit agencies, community civic and service groups, faith-based, and educational groups that meet and work together to address the long-term needs of Metro Nashville residents who have been affected by disaster.
As detailed in its bylaws, the LTRG’s mission is to provide coordinated management of the long-term recovery response to individuals in Nashville/Davidson County affected by disaster.
The LTRG offers additional long-term assistance to individuals affected by the disaster who do not have adequate personal resources, and stewards volunteer, material and financial resources.
Its goal is to provide cost-effective and coordinated delivery of services so that survivors receive unduplicated assistance in a timely, efficient and equitable manner.
With more than 80 individuals representing 30 organizations participating on regularly scheduled calls, the group has, to date:
• Identified the areas of greatest need
• Identified organizations capable of addressing those needs
• Worked to ensure it is supporting each organization’s services while providing support to survivors from all of the impacted areas in Nashville
When the tornadoes hit, Melissa Alexander wasted no time finding a volunteer project to help survivors.
That’s who Melissa is, though — she goes above and beyond for people, and doesn’t seem to think twice about it. That makes her among the most prolific tornado-response volunteers in HON.org’s database, having registered for dozens of projects and logged hundreds of volunteer hours.
“After the tornado hit, I knew I couldn’t just stay home,” she says. “I’m from Texas, and that’s just not what you do there. After a disaster, if someone needs your help, you just go.”
Melissa lives in Hermitage, about a block away from the path of destruction that spanned more than 60 miles overnight on March 2, 2020. She was without power for four days, and, looking back, is grateful to have had the opportunity to get out of the house and be of service to others.
She began volunteering at the Hermitage Community Center, sorting donations of apples, oranges, and other food and essentials. After about a week, when the center was running smoothly, she began looking for other ways to help. She had already attended volunteer leadership training at the Hands On Nashville headquarters. A liaison from Mayor John Cooper’s office determined she would be a great fit to begin supporting case management by alerting survivors to the resources that were available.
Melissa began canvassing the Hermitage area daily, going door to door to ask residents a series of questions:
“Are you working with a good contractor? Are they licensed?”
“Do you have your tetanus shot?”
“Do you know how to get to the community center?”
“Do you have your water and power turned on?”
It was more or less what she had been trained for, Melissa says, and she enjoyed the spark of hope residents would show when she was able to share information on a resource they were previously unaware of.
“‘They would ask, ‘Who are you with?’” and I would say, ‘Oh, I’m just a volunteer with Hands On Nashville, going around to make sure you’re aware of all of the services available in the community after a tornado.’ They loved it,” she says. “They were so grateful that somebody was just coming around and checking in on them.”
Melissa volunteered for weeks this way, reporting each morning to the city’s liaison, receiving her neighborhood assignments, then heading out with her bags of apples and oranges to distribute throughout the community. She estimates she spent more than 300 hours volunteering over the course of three months.
One day in particular stands out to Melissa — the day she was reassigned to North Nashville, on March 27. Rain was moving into the area, and the city needed additional help identifying houses that needed tarps.
“I went to Project Connect Nashville and started volunteering over there, four days a week, for about three months,” she says. “I’m still pretty committed to Project Connect. They do a lot for that North Nashville community.”
Once in North Nashville, Melissa says she found strength in the community to keep coming back day after day. The work was tiring, but, without fail, each morning when she arrived, there would be 30 people waiting outside Project Connect’s doors for a hot meal.
“When you see that many people waiting to get a hot meal, you can’t just say no,” Melissa says. “And the people were so eager for help. They wanted to know what resources were available or how to do something.”
And that’s how Melissa met Mary.
“She’s the lady who made me cry on my first day,” Melissa says. “A neighbor had called to bring her meals, and I was the first one to have checked up on her since the storm. That day she was upset because her FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) request was denied, and she just bawled.”
Melissa bonded with Mary, who is 83 years old, right away. She worked to get Mary’s phone back in service, reinstall her security light, and create some raised garden beds for her. They still talk or text regularly.
“I even helped her organize the inside of her house, and we shredded papers for three days,” Melissa says. “She kept everything. She had checkbooks from the ’80s. So I helped her shred papers, and it was so fun. Older people have the best stories.”
Throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns, Melissa continued to work with Project Connect. She’s an avid mask-wearer, and says she practiced good hygiene long before the pandemic, crediting her work as a behavioral analyst who often worked with clients with auto-immune disorders. She says the Red Cross and Project Connect were thorough with their protocols, and that she never felt unsafe while volunteering.
Melissa’s background has proved invaluable throughout her time volunteering. Being from Texas, she was familiar with disaster response and FEMA, and by working with lower-income families she’s also familiar with food-assistance and housing programs. As Project Connect transitioned their services to working mainly from the resource center, Melissa jokes that she became known as the “resource guru.” To this day she has about 60 bookmarks — in multiple languages — stored in her phone to offer to people for help.
“You always have a skill,” she says, “and you always have something you can do that goes toward something that someone else needs.”
And while the recovery process has spanned the past year, Melissa knows there’s still more recovery and healing that needs to happen.
“There’s so many houses still not touched,” she says. “You can drive through Hermitage now and see the changes. But in North, there’s still boards on the windows, tarps on the roofs. There’s still so much work to be done.”
Tornado survivors can get access to a variety of resources and support through the Tornado Recovery Connection. If you know any tornado survivors, please make sure they know to call TRC at 615-270-9255.
Ben Piñon was a Hands On Nashville AmeriCorps member in 2019-2020. His Riverside neighborhood sustained significant damage during the March 3, 2020, tornado. With the help of countless volunteers, Ben and his neighbors worked to clean up, offer each other comfort, and put their lives back together. Ben also led tornado-recovery volunteer projects for Hands On Nashville across the Metro Nashville area through the end of his term in November 2020.
By Ben Piñon
I’m going to miss Dave. I’ll miss each of you too, don’t get me wrong. But I’m really going to miss Dave.
Dave would walk his tiny but feisty little dog past our house every day after work. Princess, he calls her. I’ll miss the care in Dave’s eyes every time he would repeat his signature phrase: “Anything you need, just call me, you got my number.”
Every so often Dave would stop by with a box or two of donuts, leftovers from the store he manages. One day, he brought us 17 dozen.
“Dave, what am I going to do with all these donuts?!?”
“Give ‘em away. You know people.”
I really don’t know that many people in Nashville. I wish I did. Definitely didn’t before surviving the tornado — didn’t even know Dave before then. It probably looked like I knew people as I hugged several of you on your front lawns, directed volunteers showing up to help out that first week, let our living room become a donation storage space. I was just trying to be a good neighbor. It was over so quick though, and a year later, with all but that one remarkable week under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t so easy to keep building on those connections the tornado had brought into being.
By the time you read this, we will have left. Moved out a couple weeks short of the one-year anniversary. I write this letter from our new house, still in East Nashville, only 2 miles down the road. Far enough though that we won’t simply run into each other anymore. Far enough that Dave can’t stop by with the same regularity, far enough that we’ll be just as anonymous to our new neighbors as we were to you 16 months ago back in October of 2019 when we packed up the car in Oregon and landed two weeks later, by some weird twist of fate, on East Nashville’s Riverside Drive.
I imagined a whole lot for us even before the leaves on the broken branches had lost their color. It’s what we dreamers do. I imagined us having big block parties, coffee and tea in each other’s living rooms, emotional community forums, the fences separating us never getting rebuilt. I wanted us to be good neighbors. To stay good neighbors.
Recovery is not glorious as you well know. It’s not a neat fairy tale that magically ends happily ever after. I’m not sure it ever really ends. Remember how fast the tornado made us the center of attention? How we became yesterday’s news just as quickly? The world keeps turning, my friends, and it turns brutally. Another, bigger crisis made our situation no easier to solve and much easier to overlook. Some of you still haven’t moved back in. Some of you ended up out of work, out of money, low on your dignity. You lost family members, friends, or mentors since then, all while houses were still being repaired, developers were hawking, and landlords were itching to sell, raise the rent, or build back those destroyed rentals around the corner taller, skinner, and more expensive than the old tenants could afford. Just like you can’t stop a tornado from coming, you can’t just put all the pieces back together again once it’s passed. If that was the goal, we’ve lost.
One of my favorite musicians has this song — “Stay Human.” On the second day of the cleanup, I borrowed a can of spray paint and on a piece of plywood that used to live under your roof I wrote those two words as big as I could for the world to see.
The song starts like this: “I remember when I was just a boy, Mama said this world was not always a paradise.” Ain’t that the truth.
I get sad sometimes about what might have become but never did, I can’t lie. But I also don’t feel like we lost.
We may not have gotten our fairy tale, but we did what we had to do to keep moving. For me, it was growing a garden in our freshly cleared backyard — never before did it have the sunlight or open space to support one. We called it our farm. Like good neighbors, you graciously took all the cucumbers and cherry tomatoes we didn’t adequately prepare for off our hands.
“Don’t you give up on me,” the song continues. “’Cause I won’t give up on you.”
How could I? You painted tree stumps with words of encouragement, so we stopped by on our walks to say hello, a thank you of sorts, only to receive even more nuanced advice on life. You let us join your cookout on July 4th, gave us plates of leftovers to take home, treated us like family. You were genuine with us, speaking openly on the pain of losing an adult daughter or son. And Dave, your vulnerability in sharing with me stories of the harassment you faced growing up Black in Nashville in the ’60s and ’70s, that was a real gift. You and so many of the neighbors held onto your generosity, your sincerity, and your humanity through just about everything.
“All I’m trying to do, is stay human with you.”
I found a lot of joy and comfort in sharing the same three square blocks of real estate with y’all for as long as it lasted. At least for me, being your neighbor helped me stay human through some strange times. I’m grateful to all of you for that. I can only wish some of that same peace befalls you as all our lives keep moving forward, if only just a little further apart. Oh, and I wish you some more good neighbors now that we’re gone. You deserve good neighbors.
The House the Storm Built is a new children’s book written by Rebecca Rose Moody and illustrated by Lauren Reese. The book describes the effects of the deadly tornado outbreak on March 3, 2020, which devastated multiple neighborhoods and killed several Middle Tennesseans. The destructive storms caused extensive damage, including to Lauren’s home, which has had to be rebuilt.
Hands On Nashville talked with Lauren and Rebecca about the book and how they’ve been doing in the year since the tornado.
Q: It’s been a year since the tornado. How are you doing?
Rebecca: What made March 2020 so hard is that we, like so many other families, went straight from processing the tornado to being in lockdown. Our home wasn’t hit in the tornado, but Lauren and her family are some of our closest friends, so that night I remember getting a text from her that her house had been damaged and that the roof was collapsing — it was very surreal. The next day my husband and I went to help them move everything out, and just later that week schools started closing down due to the pandemic. It’s been a year unlike any other, with lots of personal losses.
Lauren: It’s pretty surreal that it’s been a year since the tornado. My family has spent this year processing and hopefully minimizing the trauma through therapy and open discussions. My children struggle a little when big storms hit and my daughter wanted to make sure we built a safe place in our new home where we could go if another tornado hit. There’s still a lot that hasn’t been processed. We had so much help the first few days after the storm and then everyone went into quarantine. We’ve been in a rental home for almost a year and can count on our hands how many visitors have been over. It’s been extremely isolating. We went from this crazy natural disaster, moving, a global pandemic, figuring out virtual school, trying to get through the steps of rebuilding a home, etc. It feels as though we have been holding our breath all year. Though I’ve had a few good cries, I think once I officially move back into our home (on the same lot as our last), I’ll probably cry and let out a big breath in relief.
Why did you make this book?
Rebecca: Lauren is one of my closest, dearest friends, and I wanted to write this story as a tribute to her experience in the tornado. The night of the tornado, I was so scared for her and her family, but she is one of the strongest people I know, and has handled losing her house and living in a rental while her new home is being built, with an extraordinary amount of grace — and this is, of course, in addition to the pandemic. Lauren is an amazing mother, so many of her efforts have been geared towards helping her children process everything they’ve been through. Hopefully this book will be a small part of their journey as they continue healing from a very difficult year. And hopefully it can help other families too.
Lauren: Pretty much what Rebecca said! She wrote the story and sent it to me. I read it out loud to my husband and we teared up! It is such a sweet story and it captures all the feelings of fear, impatience, uncertainty, hope, love, and excitement. I read the story and we knew we had to make a book! I started to illustrate each page and it was extremely cathartic. From painting my old house and remembering beautiful moments to imagining my new home, it was all a wonderful and healing process! I hope this book brings healing to our family but also to so many others who may have been through a natural disaster.
Do you volunteer? What does volunteering mean to you?
Rebecca: I have volunteered with Hands on Nashville before and I appreciated how easy it was to find a volunteer opportunity that was a good match for my energy level and abilities. For me, volunteering is all about showing up for one’s community, either by cleaning up a creek or park or by helping an individual or family. It is so important that we take care of each other, and I love that Hands On Nashville and other volunteer organizations make that possible when it’s a stranger or other neighborhood that is in need.
Lauren: I too have volunteered with Hands on Nashville in the past and other volunteer organizations. Recently, with young children, it hasn’t been as easy, but we still find ways to help those around us. It doesn’t take much to give up some time or money to those who are in need. After the tornado, I wanted to help other victims. My husband was able to tarp roofs, remove debris, etc., but I was in too much shock. I spent that week sitting with my neighbors, listening to their stories, giving them space to cry and laugh. In these moments, I built connections that are still strong now! I learned the needs of those around me and I was able to connect them to those who could help. We were able to get D a brand new roof with a church group, and B’s brother new furniture for his home (this was all done through social media and word of mouth!). I haven’t been able to join a volunteer group in awhile but I’ve volunteered my time to help meet the needs of my community.
Note from Hands On Nashville: The following post, written by licensed professional counselor Samuel Rainey, originates on the Nashville Severe Weather website, and is a useful guide for folks who feel anxious when thinking about or experiencing storms. As we mark one year since the devastating March 3, 2020, tornados, many are feeling strong emotions, including anxiety, about potential severe spring weather. We hope this post helps provide some context and useful information about how to handle stress that’s connected to storm anxiety.
There’s a feeling it’s always storm season. I have a general appreciation for storms and a healthy respect about what they can do. Sometimes, my respect for the storms can make me feel a little crazy as I attempt to corral my wife and four kids into the tiny coat closet under our stairs. Each time we do this, I’m reminded of being 4 years old in my childhood home in Arkansas. A tornado was on its way, I’m in the bathtub with my siblings, and my parents have just put the twin mattress on top of us. It was a terrifying experience. Today, we don’t have room for a twin mattress, so I put bike helmets on my kids. My teenagers are especially appreciative of me when I make them put these on.
Most people I know have a strong reaction to storms. They either love them, or hate them. I think this is because storms remind us that we are small, fragile, and incredibly powerless. Despite some really bad movie plots about weather and storms, the bottom line is that there’s really nothing you or I can do about a storm. We can’t change the direction, alter the intensity, or tell it to stop producing dangerous results. To many of us, that is a really scary experience, even to the point of creating anxiety as a storm approaches.
Feeling anxious about storms is completely normal, and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It’s natural to experience a wide range of emotions: from panic to stress to a general unease as a storm comes your way.
Stress limits the body’s production of serotonin (the happy, calming chemical). We all need serotonin to feel good, safe, and happy in life. Instead of serotonin, our body produces adrenaline. Adrenaline is the chemical that amps us up for survival, a fight, or to face a threat. Storms are a legit threat to our lives and our brains don’t really care if we’re happy or calm. Our brains think serotonin won’t save us, but adrenaline might. So we lose that happy, calming chemical, and end up on edge. Stressed.
Because we are small, fragile, and limited humans, we are deeply impacted by our surroundings. When a storm pops up, it can trigger significant feeling unsafe. At a basic level, our brain knows that when a storm is near, it has to gear our body up for a fight. Because of this, we’ve got to take care of ourselves so we can handle the incoming storms.
Three Strategies to Combat Storm Anxiety: Preparation, Process, and People
Fear is the feeling that there is danger near and that we need to do something about it. So prepare for the fear by assembling a storm kit you take with you to your “safe space” in your home. You might also consider putting a smaller kit in your car in the event a storm arises when you’re not at home. This storm kit will have everything you need before, during, and after a storm.
Your kit needs to have:
Something nonperishable to eat (Twinkies don’t count)
First aid (Band-Aids, Neosporin, etc.)
A picture of loved ones
Optional items to include:
Battery-operated handheld radio
Cell phone batter recharger and cable
Something to do/a project (a craft, knitting, drawing, bourbon tasting, Solitaire with a deck of cards, etc.)
A weighted blanket: These work in the same way that a “thunder jacket” works with a dog, or how swaddling a baby makes them feel safe and secure. A weighted blanket helps provide external stimuli that can produce serotonin (the calming chemical).
When stress happens, we need a process to follow to calm us down. Developing a process to follow each time a storm arises will help you to move out of reactivity. A process will comfort you. Your process needs to become a habit you practice every time a storm comes. This routine will help you trust in something other than the “impending doom” of the storm. You’ll have a process to comfort you.
Some processes to follow:
Put your storm preparation kit in an accessible place near your safe room.
Limit information intake: Smartphones are great for information, but sometimes too much information is actually more stressful. Flooding our mind with too much information can heighten the feelings of anxiety. Pick one or two sources of information to follow. Watch local TV or reliable social-media feeds.
Do something along with watching the weather feed. (Projects listed above)
Gratitude Jar: At the end of each severe weather threat you encounter, get a notecard and write down the date, time, and experience you had in this particular storm. Get a Ziploc bag and deposit the notecard in the bag. We are going to call this your victory bag. In the future when a storm is near and you’re getting nervous or afraid, get your kit (below), open the victory bag, and read through all of the storms that you’ve not just survived, but thrived. This will be a process for you to remember that you are ok.
Remember, storms do their thing, and we need to do our thing. Experiment with some processes to follow and find what works for you.
This is the most important of the three strategies: we need people in our lives. We need people not just when weather happens, but when other emotional storms show up in our lives. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says this, “Welcome to the world, where beautiful and terrible things will happen.”
We’re not made to deal with the beautiful and terrible things on our own. This is the reason why Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Cast Away” creates a friend out of a volleyball. He can’t live in isolation on that island. From an existential standpoint, anxiety is about being isolated. At some level we all fear being left, abandoned, betrayed, or alone by ourselves. Nervousness and worry come from a legitimate fear we have that has not been taken care of. Fears are natural to being human, and when we don’t tend to the needs associated with our fears, they can transform into life controlling worry, and sometimes even anxiety.
The single best way to help combat storm anxiety is to be known. To be with other people. Surround yourself with people who you can care about, and who care about you. If you live alone, call someone or get on a video call with them. We are better equipped to handle difficult situations when we know that someone else is with us to face the danger. It’s amazing what happens to our stress when someone who cares about us holds our hand or gives us a reassuring hug.
It might be that your storm anxiety is alerting you to your need to have more people involved in the difficulties of your life. Growth is a relational experience. We don’t grow in isolation; we grow because of relationships.
Following these three strategies won’t solve all your storm related problems, but they are a great next step for you to take. If you only do one of the three above ideas, please invite people into your life. I know of no better way to reduce my own situational anxiety than having someone help me carry the burden I’m facing.
Lastly, if you find that this anxiety you’re experiencing happens in other places of your life (work, relationships, making decisions, etc.) then it might be helpful to talk to a professional counselor about that.
We kicked off 2020 thinking we’d usher in a spring of commemoration. It had been 10 years since the devastating flood of 2010, during which time thousands of volunteers came together in a show of solidarity and spirit.
But hopes for reflection turned into action, this time in response to the March 3 tornado and COVID-19 pandemic. Again, volunteers showed how absolutely critical they are during disaster response and recovery.
We’re excited to share with you a video that celebrates the spirit of the volunteers helping our community get through this challenging time.
Hands On Nashville is in awe of this community. It’s not easy for folks to give to others while they themselves are hurting. But that’s what Nashvillians do. It’s who we are.
We’re working hard to be ready for the next disaster, and we can’t do it without you. Join us by volunteering or donating.
By Ben PiñonHON 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.”
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.”
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.
Most tornado recovery volunteer projects were paused when COVID-19 hit Middle Tennessee in March, even though there was still much work to be done. Now that we’re in Phase 3 of the Mayor’s Roadmap for Reopening Nashville, projects are resuming and volunteers are very much needed to continue the recovery process! This Saturday, June 27, is looking to be a big day of tornado recovery-related activities. Here’s a roundup of what’s available. We’ll add to this list as more activities become available.
Shelby Park Golf Course cleanup: Volunteers in groups of 10 will fan out across the golf course, which was hit directly by the tornado, to clean up small debris.
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.
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.”
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.”