Vanderbilt University and Second Harvest collaborate to tackle food insecurity

From hosting a mobile food pantry to the Empty Bowls studio art project to food drives sponsored by Vanderbilt Student Government and the University Staff Advisory Council, the Vanderbilt University community has engaged with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee in myriad ways over the past decade.  

Recently, hundreds of students from around the globe convened on the Vanderbilt campus for the Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting. During the Day of Action, more than 100 of these students participated in a mobile food pantry hosted by Second Harvest, where 20,000 pounds of food was available for distribution to the neighboring community. On April 26 members of Vanderbilt’s Government and Community Relations office joined other community partners at Second Harvest to look at ways to collaboratively work to overcome food insecurity in the state.

Students volunteer with a mobile food pantry as part of the 2023 Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting held at Vanderbilt March 3-5. (Photo by Joe Howell)
Students volunteer with a mobile food pantry as part of the 2023 Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting held at Vanderbilt March 3-5. (Photo by Joe Howell)

“Our partnership with Vanderbilt University has provided critical support to Second Harvest’s mission of providing food to people facing hunger and advancing hunger solutions,” said Nancy Keil, president and CEO of Second Harvest. “As our neighbors continue to face hunger, the support of Vanderbilt’s students, alumni, faculty and staff have allowed Second Harvest to provide more meals to our neighbors in need.” 

One of the ways the Government and Community Relations office has demonstrably supported Second Harvest has been through facilitating a multiyear sponsorship of Generous Helpings, Second Harvest’s annual fundraising event. On April 19 members of the Nashville and Vanderbilt communities came together in person after a three-year hiatus to support Second Harvest. Proceeds from Generous Helpings benefit the organization’s Grocery Rescue Program, which rescues frozen meat, produce, dairy and nonperishable food items from more than 300 grocery stores across Tennessee. 

Other ways Vanderbilt engages with Second Harvest include: 

  • Athletics participated in a back-to-school event at Jones Paideia Elementary that Pepsi organized with Vanderbilt, Dollar General and Second Harvest. 
  • Vanderbilt sponsored meals for youth in the Edgehill community during the pandemic. Second Harvest entered a unique partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools to feed at-risk children who were left without access to school meals.  
  • Sixteen Vanderbilt dietetic interns each year teach after-school and senior classes, implement cooking demos at food pantries and execute staff health breaks. 
  • VSG sponsored the Share-A-Side program in cooperation with Vanderbilt Campus Dining, which was implemented for multiple years.  
  • The MicroBiome Research Group was involved with Second Harvest’s produce truck. 
  • Multiple food drives have been organized by VSG, USAC and various other university departments. 
  • The highest number of volunteers for Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee comes from the Vanderbilt community. 
  • Second Harvest community engagement staff conduct tours and speaking opportunities with student groups across Vanderbilt.  
  • Sarratt Art Studios works with several student groups to create ceramic bowls for sale, with proceeds going to Second Harvest. 
  • Second Harvest has invited Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management MBA students to join the organization’s board as nonvoting members through the Owen Board Fellows for the past four years, beginning in 2020. 

 Second Harvest opened its doors in 1978, with a commitment and purpose to provide a central distribution center for those who wished to help provide food for hungry people in Middle Tennessee. Concomitant to being a food distributor, the organization’s mission is to provide solutions to food insecurity. Second Harvest is one of the largest and most comprehensive of more than 200 Feeding America food banks and food distribution centers nationwide. During FY22, the organization distributed more than 41.6 million pounds of food to more than 450 partner agencies, providing more than 35.2 million meals to children, families and seniors facing hunger throughout the 46-county service area.