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Through its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste plan, Kroger is committed to creating communities free of hunger and waste. We join them in honoring those who are doing just that. Each month, we will introduce a new “Zero Hero.”

Nashvillians Fighting to End Hunger & Food Waste

April 2021 Zero Hero: Michael Gooch

Meet Michael Gooch, Youth and Family Chaplain and food pantry teammate at Martha O’Bryan Center.

I love people. I’ve always loved people. I care about people, and I love to help people. I’m a natural giver, so I try to use that passion to build people up, make their lives better and help them navigate in the right direction.

I have been working in the community and with youth for about 20 years, and I’ve been at Martha O’Bryan for almost five years, where I’m the Youth and Family Chaplain and a food pantry teammate. We serve anywhere from 60-100 families a week.

My job is to serve not only the physical needs, but also the spiritual needs of the families and individuals who come to Martha O’Bryan. We treat the people we serve equally and inclusively. We pride ourselves on helping others in the most meaningful way. We do our best to be intentional about meeting the needs of the people we serve.

Food security is a need, and food deserts are a reality. Hunger and poverty are real. What we do here through the food bank ensures no kid goes to bed hungry. I can’t count the times that families have driven up, and a lady may have all of her grandkids in the car — she has all the grandkids because the mom works two jobs to keep a roof over their heads. She’ll break down and say, “Pastor Gooch, thank you so much for what you all do because I didn’t have any food in my house. But what you gave today, my grandkids can have lunch and dinner.” To hear those stories from the services we provide, it fuels us to be more to the members of the community.

Find out how you can get involved at Martha O’Bryan Center, visit marthaobryan.org.

Michael Gooch is the Youth and Family Chaplain and a food pantry teammate at Martha O’Bryan Center. He’s also our newest Zero Hero. Image: Leila Grossman

March 2021 Zero Hero: Phil Rutledge

Meet Phil Rutledge, Food Acquisition Manager at Graceworks Ministries.

I’ve been with Graceworks just over six years. I handle warehouse management and inventory control — finding food supplies we need and working food drives and things like that.

With COVID, food donations are down but cash donations are up, so I purchase a lot of food. Anything you would find at the grocery store, our neighbors need — canned products, boxed products … The hardest thing to acquire is fresh produce because if I’m getting it as rescue food from the stores, it’s on the shelves as long as it can be. So by the time I pick it up and get it on our shelves, it’s peaked. I’m looking now for sources of fresh produce to come in this summer, but that is one thing neighbors said they wanted is fresh or frozen produce — not canned stuff.

The most challenging part of the work we do at Graceworks is making sure we have enough food — our goal is to feed our neighbors three meals a day for 15 days. We also need to educate people about throwing away food that’s still good — misshapen potatoes are just as good as the perfect ones. Education would go a long way in helping solve the food shortage.

The most rewarding part of this work is the stories I hear. Prior to COVID, neighbors could shop in the pantry (we currently pre-pack carts for neighbors), and a volunteer could walk with a neighbor while they shop. One day, Ginny, a volunteer, was walking with a young man who was shopping, and when they got through, he asked, “Can I give you a hug? You have taken the most humiliating day of my life where I reached the point where I had to ask for food, and you made it enjoyable.” Food insecurity is not just the poorest of the poor. Any of us can be hit with divorce, sickness, death — something to disrupt our life — and suddenly we can’t afford to buy groceries.

Learn more about Graceworks at graceworksministries.net.

Phil Rutledge is the Food Acquisition Manager at Graceworks Ministries. He’s also our newest Zero Hero. Image: Leila Grossman

February 2021 Zero Hero: Deborah Faulkner

Meet Deborah Faulkner, a food pantry volunteer at Greenhouse Ministries.

I learned about Greenhouse Ministries through my church and wanted to do something that would be meaningful and give back to the community. I work in the food pantry.

When people who need our services come in, they are required to meet with a counselor, who prays with them and gets them food from the pantry as well as clothing, healthcare items … a lot of different things to fill their needs are available here. The goal is to try to get them on a better path, to help them to improve their circumstances.

It’s staggering to me that we’re the most affluent country in the world, but people are hungry! It’s a real need, and the need has grown because of the pandemic. People are losing their jobs or getting their hours cut back, so people who were on the edge before have now fallen off.

When I look at the numbers, just in Tennessee, there are about a million people going hungry, and a third of those are children. A lot of people just aren’t aware. So there needs to be more information — the statistics and what’s going on need to be more prevalent in the news to help people understand there’s a need and how they can help.

With this ministry, that’s one way of helping — educating not only people on hunger but also educating people who need help — helping them to get the skills they need to better their lives. Greenhouse is building a new building that will house around 15 men. Once that’s done there will be more availability of education to help people improve their lives and get them into jobs and make them an integral part of society so they can give back.

It is really gratifying to be involved with helping people improve their lives and giving people hope, even if that’s just a meal.

To learn more about Greenhouse Ministries and how you can support the work they do, visit greenhousemin.org.

Deborah Faulkner is a food pantry volunteer at Greenhouse Ministries. Image: Leila Grossman

January 2021 Zero Hero: Jeannie Hunter

Meet Jeannie Hunter, the TN Regional Director at the Society of St. Andrew.

At the Society of St. Andrew, we glean food at farms and farmers’ markets and sometimes processing plants, and we donate that food to existing feeding agencies. So we’re reducing food waste, engaging volunteers and reducing hunger. The society has been around since 1979, and we have had a TN office since 2010.

Gleaning is an old agricultural concept. It’s mentioned in the Bible. It’s when food is left behind, and people who were poor or hungry would be allowed to go into the field and harvest what was left behind. So we’ll go over to Green Door Gourmet, and when they’re done with a crop for their CSA for the season, we will pick whatever is left. We have folks who go to farmers’ markets throughout the state and pick up any excess that the farmers have at the end of market day, whether it’s because they don’t want to take it home or they just feel generous. Processing plants will provide imperfect vegetables that would otherwise go to the landfill, and we’re able to collect that food and distribute it to the agencies we work with.

The most rewarding thing is when we get to see someone get the food. I also love when we’re out in the field with kids and they’re seeing where their food comes from for the first time.

Hunger can happen to anyone — especially right now. People are choosing between medication and groceries. When they show up at a pantry, they look just like anyone else. And a lot of the people who are food insecure are people who have jobs and work 40 hours a week … at least.

Before COVID, 16% of the population was food insecure, and 20% of children were exposed to food insecurity. Now, it’s doubled as a result of the pandemic. So it’s a matter of circumstances — and it can happen to any of us so easily.

Find out how you can volunteer or donate to the Society of St. Andrew at endhunger.org.

Jeannie Hunter is the TN Regional Director at the Society of St. Andrew. Image: Leila Grossman

December 2020 Zero Hero: Courtney Vrablik

Meet Courtney Vrablik, Executive Director at The Store.

Last November, I saw an ad for The Store. Brad and Kimberly Paisley are the founders, and they were looking for an operations manager. I was in management with Amazon at the time, but I’m a former pastry chef, and food is my first passion. In between my career in foodservice and at Amazon, I was a stay-at-home mom. We faced some financial difficulties and needed to utilize the SNAP program and food pantries. All of those things made me compelled to apply for the job.

The standard food pantry is usually organized in a way that whatever is in the box is based on whatever they could obtain, but a lot of the boxes are not necessarily logical. The Store is set up like a grocery store. A family comes in, and after filling out the intake information, they grab a cart and pick out things they know their family will eat. There is an entire produce section with fresh produce that comes in weekly. We stock nutritionally dense, healthful, low-fat items that are easy to combine and prepare. Everyone in the store shopping, they are all basically in the same boat, so it’s a safe place to be.

When I was using either WIC or the EBT card in a grocery store, there were a number of times people made comments about my purchases. It got to the point where I would grocery shop in the middle of the night because of the anxiety that caused. And if I was shopping with my kids, it was mortifying.

On average, The Store supplies about 550 households primarily in Davidson County through our delivery and curbside programs. Going home and being able to tell my kids what we’re doing … they remember what it was like when the pantry and fridge weren’t as full. Being able to let them know that the way they have helped out at home and generally being good kids has helped contribute to my ability to focus on different ways we can help other families because literally, these are our neighbors.

Courtney Vrablik is Executive Director at The Store. Image: Leila Grossman

November 2020 Zero Hero: Jen Bennett

Meet Jen Bennett, a volunteer at The Branch of Nashville.

I began volunteering at @thebranchnashville four-and-a-half years ago. A friend of mine worked here and knew I speak Spanish. The Branch serves a lot of Latino people, and many of them do not speak much English, so they could use my help translating. I started with translating, but now I do a bit of everything.

Before COVID, we were only open on Tuesdays, so I volunteered every Tuesday. When COVID came, we were open most days. Now I volunteer Monday, Tuesday and Friday. I’m retired, and I’m a widow, so I’ve got the time and I’m glad to help out.

People make their appointment online to pick up food, and when they arrive, I greet them. They show me their ID, I roll the cart of food out to their vehicle, and they load the food into their car. I also help make up the carts and have them ready to be rolled out as people drive up.

We get a lot of food from Second Harvest and grocery stores like Kroger — people collect the food and bring it here. Sometimes we’ll have food drives, but we haven’t done that since COVID.

We feed around 300 people a week. Food pick-up appointments are every five minutes, so we get pretty crazy sometimes. Each family can come once a month to get about 50 pounds of food. That includes meat, vegetables and staples. We try to include bread, pastries and drinks, too. It looks like a lot, but for some large families, it may not last a full month.

It’s been very impactful to listen to these people’s stories of how they’re suddenly without a job, and for the first time in their lives, they have to come to a food bank. I’ve heard a lot of very sad stories, but most people … they are so grateful. I’m grateful for all the volunteers who are beside me — it makes you feel like, hey all this time that we’re here is so worth it — to be able to help folks who would not otherwise have food.

Jen Bennett is a volunteer at The Branch of Nashville. Image: Leila Grossman

October 2020 Zero Hero: David Frease

Meet David Frease, Procurement & Sustainability Manager at The Nashville Food Project and our newest “Zero Hero.”

I work with local grocery stores, farms, restaurants and other nonprofits to keep food from being thrown away and get it into the hands of the people who need it. We usually collect around 2,000-3,000 lbs of food a week, but that number can vary depending on what opportunities arise. For example, TNFP was the recipient of all the products on display at the TN Meat Conference back in March, right before lockdown started. With the help of many volunteers and our friends at One Generation Away, we recovered 28,000 lbs of premium proteins that would have otherwise been sent to the landfill.

The bulk of our donations are fruits and vegetables or pantry items, while protein has been notoriously difficult for us to source in the past. Thankfully, Porter Road Butcher has so generously brought us 100 lbs of ground beef every week over the last few months. Having that kind of dependable donation has freed up our staff to focus more on the 3,000-5,000 meals we make weekly, now that we know we have a steady source of protein.

Hunger is a solvable problem. It’s been estimated that 40% of the food produced in the U.S. ends up in the landfill while, at the same time, 1 in 7 children are struggling with hunger. That math doesn’t add up. Sending large quantities of edible food to the trash because it doesn’t look perfect, is nearing expiration or the packaging is a little dented is the very definition of waste — especially when you consider how much labor, land, time, energy and resources went into producing it.

If there’s any silver lining to this whole pandemic, it’s that we’ve realized people can change and adapt far quicker than we imagined. There doesn’t have to be a “we vow to end hunger in Nashville by 2030” timeline. We can fix it within a year if we make it a priority.

David Frease is the Procurement & Sustainability Manager at The Nashville Food Project. Image: Leila Grossman

September 2020 Zero Heroes: Chris & Elaine Whitney

Meet Chris & Elaine Whitney, founders of One Generation Away and our newest “Zero Heroes.”

CHRIS: We moved to Nashville 16 years ago to start a church, and out of that church is where One Generation Away was birthed. We do mobile food pantries about 40-45 Saturdays a year, and Monday through Saturday we rescue food from grocery stores, which we’ll take into the community, or we will service small food pantries that are serving that community that day.

ELAINE: Our youngest daughter was born with spina bifida. The same time she was born, Chris lost his job. So I was in those lines. I was the one receiving the food. My big thing is to let people know that it’s just a season. They will get out of this, and that’s why we’re there.

C: Other than the mobile food pantries, we now own three refrigerated trucks. Grocery stores have this food surplus. Instead of throwing it away, we can go rescue it. That sounds funny, but it’s in danger of being thrown away when it’s perfectly edible, and there are people who have a need.

E: On a weekly basis, we’re in Maury, Williamson and Davidson counties, and we’re in AL, TN and FL. We also do disaster relief. When the first responders leave, we can bring in fresh food and hope. One of the things we always hear is, “Thank you for not forgetting about us.”

C: To be face to face with someone struggling with hunger and to be the answer to somebody’s prayer, there’s no feeling like it. They’re crying with you, you’re crying with them … it’s unbelievable. When I stepped down from pastoring to do OGA full-time, there was a lot of emotion there, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I can pastor more people in this food ministry in a parking lot than I ever could in a building. We have been given a tremendous opportunity to use a vehicle we call food to be able to bring hope to the hopeless, and if that’s all I did the rest of my life, I’d be okay with that.

Elaine & Chris Whitney are the founders of One Generation Away. Image: Leila Grossman

August 2020 Zero Hero: Kate Lillegard

Meet Kate, a Second Harvest Food Bank volunteer and our newest “Zero Hero.”

I’m from a small town in Montana, and growing up in a small town, the community really only operates because people volunteer. My parents relentlessly gave of what they had regardless of what resources were there — that kind of modeling is what fostered my love of volunteering.

When I moved to Nashville, I was seeking that sort of community involvement, and I found Second Harvest through my grad school, where I’m studying to be a dietitian. I feel like I belong there. They care about their volunteers and stand by their mission.

I enjoy volunteering in the hunger and food waste space because I want to make sure that we’re using all the resources we have in the right way. When I’m at the food bank, I see a lot of produce we get is given because it’s damaged or past its expiration date. We need to be mindful of that when we grocery shop and be okay with purchasing something that may be bruised and using the good part, or buying something that’s close to the expiration date if it will be used in the next few days, or only buying what we need.

A lot of hunger could be alleviated if people could set aside time to commit to places like Second Harvest. The shifts are 2-3 hours at a time. If I can replace the time I spend scrolling social media with being at the food bank, then I feel that’s more productive.

The way we can make the most influential change is by pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones. That’s often where the best decisions are made for ourselves, but also for those around us. Regardless of what’s happening to you, someone needs your story, and Second Harvest offers that opportunity to share. The people I’ve met through Second Harvest have influenced my life in very positive ways, so by volunteering there, you’re exposing yourself to great things that will only enhance your life.

Kate Lillegard is a volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank. Image: Leila Grossman

July 2020 Zero Hero: Sharie Goodman

Meet Sharie, Director of FiftyForward Fresh Meals on Wheels and our newest “Zero Hero.”

Meals on Wheels rebranded a couple years ago. We’re now FiftyForward Fresh/Meals on Wheels. We partner with Nashville Food Project to provide fresh, healthy meals to local seniors.

There’s a lot of malnutrition in the aging population, and many don’t know they’re malnourished. We provide the healthiest food we can in a way that gives them the ability to have positive outcomes on their health. It’s more than hunger. It’s saying this may actually bring health to you and awareness that you should ask for better choices when people help you pick up your groceries.

It’s a passion for me because we need to have hope as we age, and it’s hard to have hope if you’re not well. Even if you aren’t well, there’s hope in knowing you can maintain a type of lifestyle that can bring you to a place — even with a chronic illness — where you’ll do better.

FiftyForward Fresh/Meals on Wheels serves both the person who can’t cook or shop for themselves and also the person who stays active but is too tired to cook, so they just eat cereal for dinner.

About 80% of our people are on grants or are paid for through donations and fundraisers.

The other 20% pay a small fee if they’re able to. We’re not making any money off the meals; we’re just trying to keep that access open and stay within our budget. There are a lot of reasons why people go hungry. Yes, financial, but sometimes access.

Food is something that can connect us. Yes, we deliver food for the body, but I believe the vision for this program is also to deliver food for the soul. It’s also a connection of respect and honor to our older adults who have lived their lives and raised their kids. It’s important for them to know that it’s not just here’s some food; it’s we are here as a community, as a group of people that cares. We can all come together and find our place where we can do a greater good. During this phase in their lives, my desire is to see that connection bring a more positive aging experience for them.

Sharie Goodman is Director of FiftyForward Fresh Meals on Wheels. Image: Leila Grossman

June 2020 Zero Hero: Camille Davis

Meet Camille.

I moved to Nashville from Florida in January of 2016. That’s when I began volunteering at Manna Cafe Ministries, which is a nonprofit that serves Clarksville and Montgomery County citizens who are in need of resources, specifically food.

I have a passion for ending hunger, and the reason why is because it’s personal. I have been in that hard situation before, where we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. I have been homeless before. It’s hard to see folks struggle if there is a way to help. Doing this work gives me a euphoric-type feeling. Just to know that you can put a smile on someone’s face, or help them out of a bind. It’s not like I can change the world, but it’s one person at a time.

Kroger Zero Hunger Zero Waste award winner Camille Davis

Camille Davis was selected as Kroger’s 2019 Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Zero Hero winner. Image: Leila Grossman

I am a Customer Service Manager at the Goodlettsville Kroger. I was honored as the 2019 Kroger Zero Hunger | Zero Waste “Zero Hero” for the volunteer work that I do with Manna Cafe Ministries, and part of that award meant Kroger donated $2,000 to the nonprofit of my choice, so I chose Manna Cafe Ministries.

When my manager announced that I was being honored with the award, I was in shock, and my coworkers said, “You should be grateful. It’s okay to be talked about for things like that!” It’s mixed emotions, though, because I just feel like if you’re doing something nice for someone and it’s coming from your heart, you don’t need all the accolades, but it’s great for people to say, “Hey, we appreciate it!”

When it comes to ending hunger in our communities, I think the solution is for everyone to not look at people in that situation as beneath them. Life happens to us all, and none of us ask or want to be in a position where we are hungry and we can’t provide for our children or ourselves. But by just reaching out and lending a helping hand, we can help pick people up.

The Zero Hero series is sponsored by Kroger.

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