CFMT Grantee: Second Harvest Makes Urgent Appeal for Donations

UPDATED 03/01: The following story includes original reporting, as well as updated information provided by CFMT and Second Harvest Food Bank’s grant manager, Brandon Shaw.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee opened its doors in 1978 with commitment from several community leaders. The purpose of the organization was to provide a central distribution center for companies, groups, and individuals who wished to help provide food for hungry people in Middle Tennessee.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee has received $90,000 in grants to support Nashville/Middle Tennessee tornado relief efforts to provide food to individuals being served by Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and more.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee needs our help.

Right now. And tomorrow. And the next day and the next.

The tornadoes of March 3, followed by the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures and quarantines, has prompted an unprecedented need to feed individuals and families as schools and nonessential businesses have closed and senior centers have locked down.

Priorities at Nashville-based Second Harvest remain to collect and distribute food and other resources to those in need across the community, partnering with 460 other agencies across their 46-county service area.

“The situation changes hourly during a crisis,” says Frank Ellmo, Second Harvest’s Senior Director of Operations, on the agency’s website, “and we’re dealing with two at the moment — tornado response and COVID-19 support. Everyone from our transportation team, warehouse crew, and Volunteer Engagement is working hard to keep food moving to the community. We know the stakes.”

Gretchell and Robert are just some of the many volunteers delivering food door-to-door to our neighbors affected by the tornadoes, as Second Harvest and their community partners work to ensure everyone gets food who needs it. Photo courtesy Second Harvest Food Bank Middle Tennessee

The coronavirus pandemic has meant transitioning from offering grocery store-soups at mobile pantries to placing pre-packaged boxes of food in customers’ trunks, The Tennessean reported in an April 1 story about food banks statewide.

“A lot of our agencies are staffed by older adults that are at higher risk for COVID-19. We’re working to ramp up distributions at other agencies to supplement those that have closed,” Second Harvest’s Ally Parsons told the newspaper.

Second Harvest has been buoyed by a $750,000 grant from Blue Cross Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee as part of a $3.25 million donation to six food banks across the state.

The agency reports a 200 percent increase in page views for its Find a Food Bank section of its website.

Follow up with Brandon Shaw, Grant Manager, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee

CFMT: From your organization’s perspective, what progress has been made since the March 2020 tornadoes, and what more still needs to be done for survivors?

SHFB: From the morning of March 3rd, Second Harvest worked quickly to provide food to Middle Tennesseans affected by the tornadoes. So many faced damage on a massive scale, even losing their school, home, or livelihood. Our response included disaster relief food aid provided to Davidson, Wilson, Putnam, and Benton counties. We worked with MDHA, Metro Shelters and Disaster Centers, MNPS and Wilson County Schools, Senior Towers, the Red Cross, and other nonprofits positioned locally to help.

Since March, our program staff, volunteers, drivers, material handlers, fundraisers, and community partners have been working tirelessly to care for our community. The response has been overwhelming already, as people have given of themselves to help. But there is much more to do, especially now that a global pandemic has been brought to our doorstep.

Now that COVID-19 has caused so much disruption, agencies are not able to operate as they did previously. Schedules have modified. Volunteer-group sizes have dwindled. Grocery [food] rescue has declined. But the areas struck by tornadoes still need us. That reality has not gone away.

Once COVID-19 came to Middle Tennessee, the collective recovery merged together for us. Some were impacted by COVID, but not the tornadoes. Still other households were hit by both, presenting two kinds of challenges at once — recovering one’s home, and their health.

Second Harvest has remained busy supporting our current and still urgent disaster relief efforts in Nashville and the surrounding communities as we do battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well. Truckloads of disaster relief food aid have been distributed in Davidson, Wilson, Putnam, and Benton counties — areas heavily affected by the tornadoes.

Our collective tornado and COVID-19 relief has resulted in 39% more food being distributed between March 1–December 31 when compared with the same period in 2019. Cumulatively we provided 35.8 million meals in the 10 months following the tornadoes.

But the work is not done. We continue to see long lines at our food distribution events across Davidson and Wilson County. Record numbers of people are still in need due to COVID-19, bringing a 45% increase in food insecurity across Middle and West Tennessee according to Feeding America’s May 2020 report.

The effects of the March 2020 tornadoes, compounded by the onslaught of a global pandemic threatening health, housing, childcare, and jobs, has brought uncertainty around where people will get their next meal. Many whose homes were damaged have still have not gotten back on their feet now almost a year later.

Through localized programming, we continue to serve populations at risk of going without food. These efforts include weekly distributions of 300 produce boxes to low-income neighborhoods via MDHA; weekly and monthly distributions of shelf stable and perishable food boxes, including produce, to 14 schools in the MNPS; 4,000 produce boxes weekly for the rural areas of our surrounding “doughnut” counties; 500 produce boxes weekly for the Hispanic/Latino community via Conexion Americas; and daily meals at the homeless shelter at the Nashville fairgrounds.

For more information about Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee’s tornado response and ways that you can help, visit