Every week, a 28-foot truck rolls up to a handful of Nashville’s low-income housing developments. The trailer is packed full of fresh produce, bread and canned goods. Volunteers shuffle the items from the truck to makeshift stores in the apartment complexes where hundreds of residents can load up on a few days worth of groceries for free.
The “ food comes to you” set up is the brainchild of Pavilion Church Pastor Bart Williams, who has an extensive background in food management and restaurants. He’s been delivering groceries around Nashville for the last six years, and currently delivers two to three days of groceries to nearly 1,000 people every Wednesday.
“I let this food be a symbol of how much we want to bring hope to the world and show hope to the city of Nashville,” Williams said.
Williams operates the food delivery service under the nonprofit Outreach Base Nashville, which officially launched earlier this year. The idea for the ministry started after Williams began volunteering seven years ago with The Bridge Ministry, which hands out food, clothes and toiletries under the Jefferson Street Bridge to people experiencing homelessness and poverty.
“I noticed that at the end of their days feeding the homeless that they didn’t always have all the food distributed out,” Williams said. “It was either wasted or given away to the wrong people. What I started doing with our old church bus was picking up the leftover food and taking it (to) Wedgewood and 12th Avenue. That’s how we got started.”
The deliveries were immediately a hit with the people who were receiving the food at their homes. Williams explained that delivering the food to low-income housing complexes – including Wedgewood, Edgehill and the Trevecca and Chippington complexes – helps to minimize embarrassment that recipients might feel when going to a traditional food bank.
The delivery aspect is what Williams believes makes his ministry unique in the city. “I believe we’re the only church that delivers food to the community,” he said.
Bart Williams (left) and Clay Welch deliver groceries at Wedgewood Apartments.
The decision to focus on feeding Nashville’s low-income families, according to Outreach Base Nashville’s Executive Director Clay Welch, was due to a lack of assistance available to those scraping to get by in the city.
“There are plenty of people who want to help feed the homeless, (but) there’s not a lot of people helping feed low-income, working poor,” Welch said. “This is an under-served area whenever you talk about the need.”
As the ministry has expanded into more complexes, and added food services to a pantry at Madison Church of Christ and Nashville students, volunteers have come on board to help load and unload the food, bag up produce and forge friendships with the food’s recipients. They also gather together and pray for the food’s recipients before deliveries begin.
Many of the volunteers are teens, including 15-year-old Emily Taylor, who has been volunteering with Outreach Base Nashville for five months.
“Seeing the needs of everyone around me has taught me that I’m so blessed with what I have. It’s been an honor, really, to serve others,” Taylor said, adding that the volunteering has had a long-term impact. “I feel called to be a part of ministry, mainly in the homeless area.”
The cost of renting a 28- foot truck limits Outreach Base Nashville to only one run a week, but, according to Williams, there’s a surplus of food at Second Harvest that he’d like to take to more low-income renters.
He said, “Second Harvest, where (The Bridge) gets this food from, has more food I could pick up on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and feed 10 times the families we’re feeding now.”
Williams is collecting donations so that Outreach Base Nashville can purchase or lease its own truck.
“If I had a truck full time, we could pick up directly from Second Harvest food bank and deliver food three, four, five days a week. It would be a big blessing to Second Harvest because a lot of this (food) is their perishable and they can’t hang onto it very long because they don’t have room for it.”
Outreach Base Nashville also has plans to expand to offer cooking classes, education and transitional living, along with their food runs.
But for now, Williams and Welch are focused on getting their own truck to deliver groceries more frequently to those in need.
“A budget can be tough, especially for some of the elderly we go and service,” Welch said. “If an elderly person is going to have to choose between food, medicine and rent, they’re going to pay their rent first, then they’re going to try to get their medicine. If they have to go without food, then they will. That’s a choice that no one should ever have to make.”
More information about Outreach Base Nashville, including volunteer and donation opportunities, can be found at www.outreachbasenashville.org.