That Special Sauce

By TNFP’s Impact Manager, Grace Biggs

In the past year, The Nashville Food Project has cooked and shared over 204,000 made-from-scratch meals with 47 meal sites... which means rain or shine, we're loading up and delivering good food around our city. Last week, I shadowed our Distribution Manager, Emily Novak, for a behind the scenes look at what goes into these meal deliveries.

It’s a typical Tuesday morning, and Emily is pulling up the delivery van to load the first round of meals for today’s route. This Nissan van, fondly named ‘Biscuit’, is outfitted with food storage containers that keep food either hot or cold for hours. And good thing... because we’re about to deliver 520 hot and cold meals!


So where are these meals going? At TNFP, we know that food alone isn’t a solution to food insecurity. That’s why our meals support the poverty-disrupting and community-building programming of our Meal Distribution Partners, such as after school programs, ESL classes, senior programs, and emergency shelters. Today’s itinerary includes 12 partner sites, starting with Wedgewood Towers and ending with FiftyForward, with a stop in the middle to load up more meals from our second kitchen at St. Luke’s Community House. This is all detailed on a clipboard with notes for each site, including addresses, contact names and numbers, delivery window times, and instructions on where to drop off the food.

“I really enjoy the logistics. A lot goes into figuring out how to make it all work,” says Emily.


There are a lot of moving parts to our programs, and navigating the day-to-day operations takes both planning and improvisation. In particular, the collaborative nature of the meals program means we’re constantly navigating details GALORE. Our partners’ changing program schedules, what time they need the food to arrive and at what temp, vehicle capacity and route planning, our kitchens’ meal prep and cook times… everywhere you look, there are systems in place to help all of this come together.

But just as important as the logistics, are the relationships made along the way.

“The people I’ve gotten to know are definitely my favorite part of my job, without a doubt,” says Emily.


Our first interaction is with the kitchen volunteers and staff at TNFP’s headquarters. As Emily comes in to load the food, she’s stopped by hugs from meal prep volunteers while Mary, a volunteer cook, starts serving us up some chili to sample.

And the hugs don’t stop there... when we pull up at our first stop, there is already someone holding the door open for us as we step out of the van. “CL! Did you get new glasses?” Emily asks as he helps us unload, pausing for a big hug. In the lobby, she introduces me to a few more residents as residents begin to gather for the meal. “What you got for us today, Emily?” someone asks. There’s a warm, family feeling in the air.

All throughout our day, Emily greets everyone by name. As one of our co-workers once put it, Emily has a “special sauce” — something you can’t quite put your finger on, but it's an energy that immediately welcomes you in. She has a genuine curiosity about people and their stories.


“The people who work at the front desk of the schools, the custodians who help open the doors for me, the attendant at the gas station… wherever I go, I’m building relationships,” Emily shares.

At TNFP, we believe that sharing food is about sharing nourishment — as much for spirit and soul as for the body. For Emily, that means taking time for relationships, even in the midst of a jam-packed day of meal deliveries.

How are you taking time for relationships in your day-to-day life? Let us know in the comments!