CFMT Grantee: Gideon’s Army mobilizes its neighborhood troops

Gideon’s Army is a community-based, grassroots organization that uses restorative justice programs to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline through social activism by children, families, and the community. Its programs address school-push-out, youth violence, policing, and juvenile justice. Based in North Nashville, the organization to date has received $115,000 in grants from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund to support the relief efforts in the aftermath of the 2020 Middle Tennessee tornadoes.

It didn’t take long.

Not long for Rasheedat Fetuga, a former schoolteacher and founder of the grassroots nonprofit Gideon’s Army, to spring into action just hours after a tornado ripped through the organization’s North Nashville neighborhood before she posted this at 3:47 AM on Facebook:

“Friends and family. This is Rasheedat, the founder of Gideon’s Army. We are out here in North Nashville and families are devastated. People with nowhere to go in cars with windows busted out from the storm. People clearing the streets. Mothers walking to safety with crying children.

“Gideon’s Army is positioned to be ready to provide as much support as possible. Please stay tuned for next steps and please donate and share. All money will be used to support families impacted by the storms and tornado tonight. A lot of people have lost absolutely everything and will need help rebuilding their lives.”

Were they ever ready.

Gideons Army - CFMT Grantee

Armed with work gloves, garbage bags and cleaning bags, Gideon’s Army staff and volunteers immediately set to clearing streets and neighborhoods of debris. They have been a constant presence at drop-off sites such as AME Lee’s Chapel and the Northwest Family YMCA, and later at the Metro Nashville Disaster Assistance Center at   Hadley Park Community Center.

They collected sleeping bags for set up overnight locations for the hungry and homeless. Rasheedat Fetuga and team were present the first night after the devastation at the Northwest YMCA. With a constant barrage of messaging on social media, the telephone, and word of mouth, the call went out for hot food, clothing, blankets, pillows, cots, air mattresses, and stuffed animals for children. Donations. And, always, volunteers. More and more volunteers.

“I just want to say THANK YOU for everyone who has donated. It has really been a bittersweet day,” she says late that first night of March 3 in a Facebook video 11:31 PM. “Bitter for what everyone has been going through. Sweet for how much everyone has shown up.’

One hundred flashlights. Two-hundred pizzas. Help is on the way. And continues still.


CFMT: How have you been using the tornado emergency response grants?

GA: First, we have to thank our supporters and donors from across Middle Tennessee and the country who have given to our #RebuildNorthNashville fund. We couldn’t do what we are doing without them. Here is a snapshot of what we’ve accomplished in the past 30 days: 

  • Provided direct services and support to over 3,000 individuals and families … and counting
  • Distributed 41,365 hot meals
  • Canvassed over 300 homes
  • Provided $2,400 in gift cards directly to community members
  • Distributed 50 WeGo Passes for transportation
  • Placed 6 families in emergency housing for 15 days
  • Distributed over 18,000 food boxes, supplies, and nonperishables

This was all in response to the tornado, but we are now moving toward long-term recovery while still providing support for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and supplies to families who request it. 

CFMT: In light of changes in how we all live and work due to the coronavirus pandemic, how is your organization managing to work in supporting tornado relief and recovery efforts? What challenges have you all overcome or are overcoming?

GA: One of the most challenging things about providing service to our community during this time is our inability to canvass, go door to door and engage and interact with the families in real time as they need us. Our work has always been: See a need, fill that need. It’s harder to see the need when we can’t see the people.

However, we are still serving. We have moved toward a needs-based model for distributing supplies and support to the community. Within four days of the tornado, we had a website up so that our community could stay informed, find resources, and request assistance. receives daily requests from families in need. We send those requests to our case managers and volunteer coordinator to contact the family. Every Saturday, our volunteer team heads to our storage facility to pick up items to deliver to families who have submitted a request. For families without internet access, we also have a hotline that they can call for immediate assistance. We held a virtual volunteer training just last week to mobilize our volunteers.

CFMT: In terms of tornado relief and recovery, what needs remain in your community or communities for tornado relief and recovery?

GA:  Our community had extensive needs before the disasters took place. Those needs have just multiplied now in a major way. This situation reminds me very much of my hometown of New Orleans after [Hurricane] Katrina. It has been 15 years since Katrina, but the impoverished communities in New Orleans are STILL suffering and are STILL in need. The community of North Nashville will STILL be in need for a long time to come.

Here is a snapshot of what those needs will look like: 

  • Sustainable and affordable housing 
  • Child care and educational support
  • Transportation support
  • Food and basic needs
  • Mental health services/counseling/family counseling
  • Healthcare 
  • Financial Assistance for loss of wages due to COVID-19 pandemic
  • Jobs that pay a living wage/economic Investment in our community
  • Violence Interruption Prevention programming
  • Trauma response support
  • Community outreach and engagement

CFMT: Define the word “hope” for you and your organization.

GA: Gideon’s Army is the word hope personified. Before the storm, we only had a staff of nine, yet we were still able to make a daily impact in our community through our school program, trauma response program, juvenile courts programming and violence interruption. 37208 was the ONLY zip code in Metro Nashville that saw a reduction in violent crime last year. We did not have the funding we needed to be fully staffed to the capacity we actual need. Core Violence states that to be effective we should have 12 violence interrupters. We only have five — yet, we still got results that no other district could. 

We do a lot with very little. When the tornado hit, our team was the first on the scene in North Nashville. Within 30 minutes of the disaster we had people assessing damage and going neighbor to neighbor to check on each other. We were passing out flashlights. Within eight hours we had a disaster recovery donation center set up, and we were accepting donations and distributing supplies and food. Within a week, we had a website up and we had over 2,000 volunteers signed up to help.

And this was not something we have trained for. This is something we were able to do because it is the work we have already been doing long before a tornado or COVID-19 came to Nashville. We define hope as not letting what you lack stop you, but letting how important your mission is guide you to keep going and fight another day. That’s why we are Gideon’s Army. We are hope for North Nashville. 

Learn More About Gideon’s Army

Online at

Photos Left:
(Top) Darrius Hall, Gideon’s Army School Program Coordinator – signing in volunteers at McGruder Distribution Site
(Middle) Kids receiving free haircuts at distribution site at Dodge City Community Housing – March 4th
(Bottom) Volunteer Coordinator Kate Briefs directing hundreds of volunteers to begin canvassing the community for clean up – over 600 volunteers showed up on March 7th. 

Photos Right:
(Top) Gideon’s Army Deputy Director Jamel Gooch – Site Coordinator at McGruder Family Resource Center takes calls while managing an overwhelming surge of donations in the aftermath of the tornado – March 6th 
(Bottom) Volunteer Briefing at McGruder Family Resource Center – March 6th

Update from May 26: New building will help organization continue its mission

The former MHM Market, located at the center of the North Nashville community devastated by the tornado, now it will be owned and operated by Gideon’s Army.

The organization completed the purchase of the building at the end of April with funding from a private donor, The Tennessean reports. The new store is projected to open this summer. It will offer hot food and convenience store items and serve as a meeting place for the organization.

“This was a food desert, and many of the families are tornado victims,” Gideon’s Army founder Rasheedat Fetuga said in a release. “Now, they will have better food options nearby and a safe place to go for support services, a place owned and operated by people they know and trust.”

The store will also provide internships, training and employment opportunities through a partnership with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, according to a news release.