Community Food Advocates is giving hope to Nashville’s hungry

The face of hunger in Middle Tennessee is changing.

Increasingly, those whose basic nutritional needs are not being met include the elderly, people with disabilities, and the newly poor—lifelong members of the middle class who are seeking assistance for the first time due to a bad economy.

“[rquote]They are our grandparents, our next-door neighbors and the people sitting next to us in the pew on Sunday morning,”[/rquote] said Jennifer Bailey, an outreach specialist with Community Food Advocates and a second-year master’s student at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

The mission of Community Food Advocates is to end hunger and create a healthy, just and sustainable food system in Nashville. The group was formed in December 2009 through the merger of Manna, a 35-year-old organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty, and Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee, established in 2007 with the purpose of ensuring that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food from a just and sustainable food system.

Community Food Advocates’ straightforward motto declares a most basic human right: “Everybody Eats.” The organization is working to make this motto a reality through several key programs.

Gifts can be made to Community Food Advocates and other agencies through Dec. 31, 2012.

Growing Healthy Kids is improving access to nutritious foods for students in Metro Nashville Public Schools. For children from low-income households, the meals they receive at school are often their best access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The program has partnered parents with educators to form the Alignment Nashville School Nutrition Committee, which has been successful in bringing fresh salad bars to several school cafeterias, facilitating school-based community gardens, and sponsoring curriculum and activities that educate students on the dangers of obesity and the rewards of developing healthy eating habits for life.

Re/Storing Nashville is a grassroots movement to raise awareness of the issues plaguing “food deserts,” areas with an abundance of fast food restaurants and corner stores but a lack of full-service supermarkets selling fresh foods. Residents of food deserts face increased health risks, including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Through its SNAP Fresh initiative, Community Food Advocates has partnered with farmers’ markets in three traditional food desert areas—East Nashville, 12 South/Edgehill and Downtown—to accept Electronic Benefit Transfers (i.e. food stamps). This effort is increasing access to fresh foods for residents of these neighborhoods while supporting local farmers and a more sustainable food system.

Food Stamp Outreach and Advocacy aims to improve access to food for low-income and vulnerable people through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program. Last month, nearly 132,000 individuals from more than 66,000 households in Davidson County participated in the program.

Jennifer Bailey (John Russell/Vanderbilt)
Jennifer Bailey (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

As a food stamp outreach coordinator, Bailey advises individuals about their eligibility and serves as a vital liaison to the state and local Departments of Human Services. Her work targets five specific populations at high risk: refugees and immigrants, seniors and people with disabilities, the “working poor” or underemployed, people transitioning from incarceration to the community, and people who are homeless. She also partners with community organizations, such as Second Harvest Food Bank and Loaves & Fishes, to deliver emergency food assistance when it’s needed.

It is this very work that brought Bailey to Nashville. Following graduation from Tufts University in 2009, the Chicago native was chosen for the Emerson National Hunger Fellows Program, which gives participants field experience combating hunger and poverty through placements in communities across the country. A year later, she entered Vanderbilt Divinity School and now splits her time between pursuing a master of divinity degree and as a member of Community Food Advocates’ dedicated staff.

“We’re a small organization with a big mission,” she said. “Each of my co-workers and I really love the work that we do.”

Bailey is doing her part to end hunger in Nashville and build a community with hope. You can join her by giving to Community Food Advocates through Community Shares, one of four federations Vanderbilt partners with in its annual community giving campaign.

How You Can Help

Vanderbilt’s tradition of giving to its neighbors reaches back 90 years. In partnering with four nonprofit federations, hundreds of smaller agencies under their umbrellas receive necessary funding for programs that strengthen communities in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

These federations are more than just pass-through agencies for employees’ gifts. Instead, they are able to leverage donations with additional grants and partnerships for a greater impact in the community.

Community Shares is dedicated to supporting Tennessee social change organizations to promote a more just and caring community. Member groups address a range of issues, including animal welfare, unemployment, racism, homelessness, access to clean air and water, urban violence, child abuse prevention, the education of children, access to health care and supporting strong communities.

Community giving is tax-deductible and continues through Dec. 31. Payroll deduction makes it easy to spread a gift out over 12 months, and deductions begin in January 2013. Visit the Vanderbilt Gives: Building a Community With Hope website for more information about giving options and to make your gift today.