Five days a week, the office of Project Return, a nonprofit organization situated near a downtown bus line with views of the Nashville skyscape, hums with the purposeful activity of men and women determined to gain employment after returning from incarceration. For three full days, they participate in Project Return’s job readiness program, attending classes on topics such as money management and computer literacy and receiving individualized support on resume building and mock interviews. All the while, Project Return works diligently to support these individuals in securing employment, an often difficult task for those with a felony conviction, but one necessary to building a full and free life after incarceration.
These individuals face seemingly insurmountable barriers. For many returning to society, systemic poverty rears its head in many ways – hunger, unemployment, homelessness, social stigma, transportation, and often isolation. This means that commitment and intention towards gaining employment requires a vast array of simultaneous wraparound services.
At The Nashville Food Project, we know that hunger is an immediate, and often critical need for many vulnerable residents of Nashville. And we know that it is often only one of the many burdens of poverty our neighbors face. In partnership with Project Return, The Nashville Food Project provides two lunch time meals each week for the job readiness program participants.
This week, participants in the program will come together around a communal table during the lunch break to share a beef and broccoli stir fry, garden salad with homemade dressings, and fresh fruit, each component of which was thoughtfully and creatively repurposed for these hardworking individuals.
These meals meet an immediate need faced by many in this program – hunger. And more, as Executive Director of Project Return Bettie Kirkland claims, as “we rally our efforts to propelling people into employment, these meals are literally fuel for the job! It's hard to be an effective job seeker if you're hungry and you're worried about where you'll get your next meal. [Knowing] they're going to leave here with a full stomach frees up brain space for the information we're giving to them.”
Further, The Nashville Food Project seeks to alleviate hunger and cultivate community, knowing that food provides nourishment, healing and belonging when shared together. As our food truck pulls up to Project Return each week, we are setting a place at a communal table where all are welcome.
In the face of what daily feels like unlimited need, The Nashville Food Project begins each new partnership in our meals program strategically, not only sharing good food, but asking, “how can good food support the work already happening in your community?” Through our meal partnerships, TNFP uses the food we grow and recover, the power of human labor, and the spirit of collaboration to disrupt cycles of poverty in Nashville.
In addition to Project Return, we work in collaboration with 26 other nonprofit organizations such as The Contributor, Operation Stand Down, GANG (Gentlemen And Not Gangsters), and Begin Anew, among many others. As we share these meals, we believe in the power of these partnerships to alleviate hunger, bring people together, and transform communities.