It’s here — our guide to where you can donate items this holiday season to help out many of our partner nonprofits! We’ve rounded up some of their most urgent needs at the link below. From books to gloves to hearing aids, no donation is too small.
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.”
To aid the CRC in its mission of serving those in need, sign up to volunteer here.
Whether you’re a college student home for Fall Break, or a parent looking for a wholesome (and free!) way for your kiddos to pass the time, we’re here to connect you to volunteer opportunities at lots of great Nashville organizations. The opportunities highlighted below fall between Oct. 5-13, but many agencies have opportunities available all season long. Click the title of each opportunity to learn more and sign up.
Also: look for ways to give back to your community year-round on our calendar.
Bellevue Edible Learning Lab Inc.
Minimum age: 16, or 4 with an adult
When: Saturdays, Oct. 5 and Oct. 12
The Bell Garden serves as a teaching and learning lab for volunteers, students of Bellevue Middle Prep, and the community. Volunteers can do a variety of things, including sow seeds and harvest plants, water and weed, work in the greenhouse, tend the chicken flock, and can and preserve fruits and veggies. The garden runs on volunteer power, and no experience is necessary.
St. John’s United Methodist Church
Minimum age: 18, or 13 with an adult
When: Thursday, Oct. 10
Thursday Night Community Meals at St. Johns UMC offer free, nutritious meals in a safe, friendly, and caring environment to a diverse group of clients at risk of hunger and some experiencing homelessness. Volunteers help with last-minute preparations, serving the meal, helping clean up, and socializing with diners.
The Nashville City Cemetery Association
Minimum age: 18, or 16 with an adult
When: Saturday, Oct. 12
Enjoy the peacefulness of the Nashville City Cemetery while working to restore the grounds and prepare for winter. By clearing brush, weeding, and raking leaves, volunteers will help preserve a historical landmark, and show respect to an important piece of Nashville history. The Nashville City Cemetery Association, Inc., was formed in 1998 to protect, preserve, restore, and raise public awareness of the Nashville City Cemetery. Bring drinking water, gloves, and any gardening tools you have!
The Nashville Film Festival
Minimum age: 16
When: Thursday, Oct. 3, through Saturday, Oct. 12
Lights, camera, action! The Nashville Film Festival is casting A-list volunteers to assist at its annual festival. Volunteers will usher guests to their seats, collect and distribute ballots for film judging, set up and tear down, check credentials for VIP areas and ticketed events, and provide light cleaning of theaters and VIP areas. Plus: Volunteers receive festival vouchers.
Martha O’Bryan Center
Minimum age: 18, or 12 with an adult
When: Mondays, Oct. 7 through Nov. 18
Interact with children and families while serving a hot meal to those in the middle of a food desert. Martha O’Bryan’s Family Resource Center hosts Kid’s Café every Monday for those in need. Volunteers will help set up, serve food, and try and make the community comfortable while they share a meal together.
Cornelia Fort Pickin’ Party
Minimum age: 15, or 12 with an adult
When: Saturday, Oct. 5
Help make the Pickin’ Party waste free by assisting attendees in correctly sorting their food waste into the compost bin, and all recyclables into the recycling bin. With volunteers’ help, 80 percent of waste can be recycled into new materials. Training will be provided prior to the event. The Cornelia Fort Pickin’ Party combines the tastes and talents of East Nashville to help preserve one of the city’s most unique landmarks, the Cornelia Fort AirPark.
Minimum age: 12
When: Saturday, Oct. 5
Smiling faces and encouragement are needed for the Bike to Jack & Back bicycle ride. Volunteers will also help with setup, teardown, and food service. Bike MS is the fundraising cycling series of the National MS Society, and to date, has raised more than $1.3 billion to end Multiple Sclerosis.
Minimum age: 18, or 5 with an adult
When: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4 and 5
Offering a full day of activities, the 28th annual Nashville AIDS Walk needs event volunteers. In addition to celebrating the amazing work of Nashville CARES, volunteers are asked to help set up, register walkers, hand out water, and offer assistance as hundreds of supporters come out to bring awareness to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Middle Tennessee. The Nashville AIDS walk is a family-friendly event that has raised more than $3 million for the cause. Pre-registered volunteers receive a T-shirt and lunch.
The Family Center
Minimum age: 18, or 1 with an adult
When: Saturday, Oct. 5
Grab your glitter and start crafting with The Family Center to make calm-down bottles for their clients. Volunteers will fill bottles with water and glitter to act as a calming mechanism. The Family Center works to break multi-generational cycles of child abuse, neglect, and trauma by providing a safe, supportive space where parents and/or their children can connect and grow.
HON Community Partners: Do YOU have family-friendly volunteer opportunities during Fall Break (Oct. 5-13) that aren’t featured here? Let us know so we can add them!
Radnor Lake State Natural Area was designated as Tennessee’s first natural area and protected ecosystem in 1973. More than one million people visit this 1,260-acre urban sanctuary for wildlife and waterfowl each year. Friends of Radnor Lake is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, preserving, and promoting the natural beauty of Radnor Lake through land acquisition, environmental education, and park support.
Volunteers play a vital role at the park removing exotic plants, mulching trails, and planting native vegetation. More than 1,000 volunteers helped to rebuild damaged trails after the May 2010 flood. In 2012, park staff are coordinating a long-term volunteer project that involves clearing approximately four acres of invasive exotic bush honeysuckle and creating a new trail to the historic valve-house and caretaker residence.
Volunteers, along with the Radnor Lake Ranger Staff, meet on the fourth Saturday of each month (except December) from 8 a.m. until noon at the Visitor Center off Granny White Pike (click here to sign up and volunteer). Friends of Radnor Lake provides bottled water, insect repellant, gloves, and other supplies so volunteers can show up ready to work. Groups wishing to schedule specific days outside the monthly volunteer day should contact Park Manager Steve Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-373-3467. For more information, visit www.radnorlake.org.
The Salvation Army, a faith-based nonprofit serving Nashville since 1890, extends a resourceful hand of assistance to families in greatest need, so that they may lift themselves from crisis to stability and independence. Serving individuals and families in Middle Tennessee, the Salvation Army offers a variety of programs that include: transitional housing for families and single women, childcare, life skills classes, after school and summer care for children, Christmas assistance through the Angel Tree program, homeless outreach, emergency services, disaster assistance and spiritual guidance.
The Salvation Army truly values volunteers who enable it to function effectively and efficiently in everything it does: feeding the homeless a hot meal, tutoring students, attending to disasters, or staffing an Angel Tree booth during Christmas. Below are some of these opportunities:
Angel Tree Volunteers – Angel Tree volunteers take client applications, staff Angel Tree booths in the malls, sort gifts, and distribute them to families before Christmas.
Red Kettle Bell Ringing – The Red Kettles will go out on November 11th and will stay out until December 24th. This annual fundraiser supports Salvation Army programs and services year-round.
Homeless Outreach – Two programs are offered weekly: Breakfast Brigade on Main Street and Friday Night feeding under the Jefferson Street Bridge. Anyone who would like to join is welcome. If you would like to bring something with you to hand out, bottled water, fresh fruit, milk, snacks, etc. are always greatly welcomed by those served.
Red Shield Kids Club Tutors and Mentors– The Kid’s Club after school program at the Magness-Potter Community Center includes homework help, tutoring, arts and crafts, sports, music, and all kinds of other recreation activities. Volunteers are needed to provide tutoring and mentoring to children ages 6-14.
GED Tutors– If you have a few hours in the evening and would be interested in helping someone turn their life around, consider tutoring in the GED program. Classes are Tuesday and Thursday from 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
Office Assistant– A volunteer is needed to answer phones and help with office work at the Magness-Potter Community Center. Times are available through the week, preferably 12:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Internship Programs – Several opportunities exist for students to gain experience in our intern program. Call for details.
To see all of HON’s volunteering opportunities with the Salvation Army, please click here. For information on other volunteer projects, please visit the Salvation Army’s website at www.salarmy-nashville.org, or contact Misty Ratcliff, Director of Volunteers, at 242-0411 (office) or 416-3175 (cell) or email Misty_Ratcliff@uss.salvationarmy.org.
The Salvation Army of Rutherford County has many similar volunteer opportunities, so if you are looking to help out with the Angel Tree or Red Kettle Bell Ringing in the Murfreesboro area, please click here.