At the Nashville Food Project Many Hands Make Tasty Work
Nearly 100 volunteers produce 3,100 meals a week from the two cooking spaces that are the Nashville Food Project (TNFP). There’s a lot of creativity involved in planning meals based on what comes in and a lot of work for the volunteers who chop, slice, clean, assemble, blanch, compost and cook. And the volunteer cooks come from every walk of life. Indeed, some of TNFP’s volunteer cooks bring a lifetime of self-taught experience to the kitchen.
“I’ve been a home cook since I was in the single digits,” says Rita Pirkl, a TNFP volunteer since May of last year. “Some of my best early memories are standing on a chair in my grandmothers kitchen and stirring pots.” Ann Fundis has been volunteering with TNFP for five and a half years, but she still remembers that first visit and quick orientation with TNFP’s meals coordinator.
“She asked one member of the group to go into the kitchen and make a dry barbecue rub,” Fundis recalled. “The young woman looked like she had been asked to paint the Mona Lisa from memory. I said that I was pretty comfortable in a kitchen, so I offered to do it.” She’s been a regular volunteer ever since.
Volunteers embody the organization’s mission to bring people together to grow, cook and share food. As they share their talents for feeding those in need, they also form bonds and learn from one another—all the while blurring lines between who’s helping whom. Volunteerism beats at the heart of The Nashville Food Project. Volunteers work two-hour shifts to produce beautiful, healthful meals from food grown or rescued from various sources. The meals are delivered to TNFP nonprofit partners who do work in various ways to help disrupt poverty. That might include a gang prevention program, ESL classes, or work training for the recently incarcerated.
“They all seem to have a capacity to roll with the punches, stay open and creative, and not all cooks are that way,” said TNFP Executive Director Tallu Schuyler Quinn. “These folks really can make something of nothing and make ingredients stretch if needed.” Expert and novice cooks alike make up the prep team shifts that chop vegetables or crumble cornbread for casserole toppings. And even the most experienced of the volunteers learn something every day.
Rita adds that she has learned ways to hide vegetables in just about everything making food healthier while also preventing waste. “Carrot tops are an example,” she says. “Who knew they make great pesto?” Fundis says that the cooks spend a good deal of time as they work bonding with each other as they work over food, family, books and politics. It’s part of what keeps them loving the work and staying calm under pressure.
“Thinking of cooking for 100 people could very well be a stressful situation,” said Christa Ross, TNFP meals manager. “But instead these volunteers make it a community experience, and the love and joy that they put into their cooking can, I feel, be tasted in the food itself.”
The following recipes from TNFP volunteers can be found at ediblenashville.com: Anne’s Lemongrass Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Rita’s Kale Salad.