When you meet someone who is so clearly passionate about her career, it is inspiring–and even more so when this career positively impacts our community. While we have found that this is not a rare attribute among Nashville women, it’s energizing nonetheless. Today, we are lucky enough be energized and inspired by Jaynee Day, CEO and president of Nashville’s Second Harvest Food Bank, and her efforts to eradicate hunger, both locally and regionally. We are thrilled to introduce you to a strong, warmhearted woman who, for the past 28 years, has impacted the fight against hunger in Middle Tennessee. There is always more work to do, though. In fact, tonight, there are more than 400,000 Tennesseans who do not know where their next meal will come from. That’s a staggering number. So as we jump into Hunger Action Month, we encourage you to take part in the hunger fight. Let Jaynee be your inspiration; learn how she made her way to Nashville and Second Harvest, how she views the face of hunger today and how you can help with hunger relief.
Where did you grow up? How did you make your way to Nashville?
I actually grew up all over the United States–Kentucky, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma City and Kansas City. I kind of call Oklahoma City home because I lived there from seventh grade until I was a junior in college. My parents were from Nashville–my dad and my stepmom grew up here. When my dad retired, they moved back here and we—my husband and my two boys and I—lived in Iowa but wanted to be closer to family. I would come to Nashville every summer—or a lot of summers—while I was growing up … my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents lived here, and so we would travel here quite often. I always thought it was such a beautiful place. So when the opportunity presented itself, we decided to come. We have been here for 28 years! We moved in February of ’88, and I started at Second Harvest July 1 of ’88.
What is something our community might not know about Second Harvest Food Bank?
A lot of people do not understand the magnitude of hunger in our community and do not understand that many folks are still struggling, even as we have come out of this recession. I think there is a little bit of a myth that we are doing so well in this economy. People are working, but we have many people who are working two jobs to make ends meet, and we still have a lot of folks who are underemployed. So the face of hunger has changed over the years. Something people might not realize is that Second Harvest spends a lot of time in the field of nutrition. We have one full-time nutritionist on our staff, and we are going to hire another one this year. We are introducing more fresh produce into our food program, more perishable food items, food items that are lower in sodium … we are trying to encourage our clients to eat healthier.
What is the relationship and/or disconnect between obesity and hunger in America?
The problem that we are having today is access to food. Many people live in food deserts. Second Harvest is very concerned about obesity, and we are very concerned about diabetes. We know what the rates are in the state of Tennessee, and one of the ways we can change that is to get people to eat healthier. We are doing a lot of nutrition education in the community with our agencies and our clients. Again, we are trying to ensure that the food we are feeding people is nutritious. Frankly, access and affordability is, many times, the root of the issue.
What does the face of hunger look like?
The face of hunger is one that many people would not imagine. It might be your neighbors or the child that sits next to your children in school; it could be the person that sits down next to you in your church pew. We never know what people’s circumstances are and when they might need our help. Second Harvest is here, and with the help of the community, we can make sure that in a time of need, when people need to put food on their table, we are here to assist with that.
What is something the community can do to assist in the hunger fight?
We, at Second Harvest, always ask people to do three things:
- Donate your time. There is always a need for volunteers, and there are ample opportunities for families and individuals, and church groups and business groups.
- Donate food. You can donate food in a variety of different ways. There are a lot of different campaigns that go on throughout the year. Kroger always has food barrels in their store; we partner with Walmart, Publix and Kroger all the time. We always encourage peanut butter, pasta, canned meats, canned fruits and canned vegetables.
- Donate Funds. People can go online. They can go to Second Harvest’s website, and become a Second Helping Giver, meaning you give each month. We always encourage people to give funds, because we can take the power of that dollar and turn it into four meals. We are very proud of the fact that $1 = 4 meals.
You can affect hunger, and we can change this. We can do this one dollar at a time. When I look into the face of someone who … the joy and the smile I see on their face when you give them food that will nourish their bodies and nourish their minds … that is worth living for, and it can change your life because it has changed mine. I am thankful every day for the blessings that I have in my life. By giving time, giving food and giving funds, you can make a difference.
Do you see widespread hunger as an issue that can be eradicated?
We are constantly educating the public about the issue of hunger and how we can eliminate that, and we all have to work collectively to see that happen. It would be my hope that someday Second Harvest would not be needed.
What attracted you to the field of social service?
I have always been attracted to social service. My mother was a public nurse, and my father worked for United Way. I grew up, my whole life, in the social service field. I really admire my mother. She was a pioneer in so many different ways as a woman, particularly in her field of public health. I knew at a very young age that this would be my calling. I did not know that it would necessarily be around the issue of hunger, but after 28 years, I am very committed to this issue and the work that we do. I know that with the help of our community and education of the public about the issue that we can either eradicate it or at least reduce it.
What do you love about Nashville? What would you change about it?
My goal is to live in a healthy and protected community, and I want my neighbors to have the same opportunities that I have, which is to live in a loving, kind community of people who care. That is one thing I love about Nashville: it is a loving, kind community. It is a beautiful place to live, and the people and the can-do attitude are what make it so great. I would change the traffic congestion. That is one thing that is a challenge for me right now (laughs)! I just love Nashville, I really do. It is a great place to live and I do not ever want to leave.
Do you have a favorite Nashville restaurant?
I love Midtown Cafe! The veal with angel hair pasta is my favorite thing on the menu. And I love their signature soup.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and who gave it to you?
My father always told me, “Listen. When you are having a conversation with someone, listen to what they are saying. Don’t always be thinking about the next thing you are going to say, but really listen carefully.” This is something I have tried to do in my career as I have approached issues, challenges and just everyday life.
What books are on your bedside table?
Currently, I have Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I love going to the beach and reading a good book while I am there, but most of the time, I love reading food magazines. I like to cook, so I enjoy reading Southern Living, Bon Appetit, Food Network Magazine and I love to collect recipe books.
Is there an event coming up on your calendar that you are looking forward to?
The whole month of September is Hunger Action Month. We are asking people to get engaged and involved this month. They can go to our website to see all the different activities taking place. Also, orange is the color for Hunger Action Month, so we are asking people to wear orange or an orange ribbon to remind the community that hunger is still among us, but we can do something to change that. And the next big event is the Harvest Moon Ball on November 14, at the home of Sylvia Roberts. That is a huge fundraiser for us.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Health. That is pretty important to me. I could do without a lot of stuff, but I love any form of potato, and I love steak. It would be hard not to have steak in my life. That is a hard one to do.
Thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful images. See more of her work at ashleyhylbert.com.