One out of every four youth in Nashville do not have reliable access to a sufficient amount of food. That leaves many students – and their families – relying on their public schools to help them eat. But what happens on summer vacation and other extended breaks from school?
In 2017, Nashville native Maria Mauthe started working with her church, Grace Church of the Nazarene, in an effort to address this crisis. Maria connected with Metro Public School's community liaisons Nicole Valentine-Vaughn and Kevin McKenzie, and the trio started organizing efforts to fill and pack gallon-sized snack bags that could be distributed to families prior to these breaks.
Later that year, Maria started meeting with the late Frank Trew, who had expressed his own interest in helping with the issue. That school year (2016-2017), there were more than 350 homeless youth in the McGavock cluster, a fact which alarmed Frank and led him to offer the assistance of Hip Donelson with the project. Ultimately, in March of 2017, an organizational meeting that included Nicole, Kevin, Maria, Frank, Pastor Jonathan Trees and Justin Warren (Grace Church of the Nazarene), Russ King (Donelson Church of Christ), Julie Buhler (Phat Bites), and Kathy Johnson-Warner (City of Refuge/Grace Church) was held to come up with a plan to help families experiencing homelessness or food insecurity. The idea they came up with was inviting them to receive a free meal each Friday at the Hip Donelson Farmer’s Market – an idea that became the starting point for Hip Eats.
Each Friday during that summer, the families received meals from Phat Bites (which was the site of the Farmer’s Market at that time), all prepped and served by volunteers. The meals were provided free of charge for these families, while other patrons of the Market could buy one for eight dollars. By the end of that summer, more than 500 individuals had received one of these meals, getting not only a freshly-prepared meal but also getting to enjoy the music and atmosphere of the Farmer’s Market. The project continued the next year, even as the market moved to the Two Rivers Mansion. This time, families were receiving free vegetables from the Grace Church vegetable garden, a gallon-sized snack bag, and a food voucher to a local restaurant.
In 2019, the Hip Eats team met with the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Homeless students in an effort to improve communication about the program and let more families know of the services being offered. The outcome of that meeting was that families were offered more food items and vouchers, but now on a monthly visit rather than weekly. The first Friday of the month became the designated “Hip Eats Friday,” and families were invited to the market to receive a hearty food box, twenty dollars in Farmer’s Market coins, fresh vegetables from the church’s garden, and a meal voucher to Nectar Urban Cantina. Over 300 people were fed through this program, while the Farmer’s Market coins allowed them to supplement the church’s vegetables with other produce and necessities from the market. As one Two Rivers Middle School parent said, “The Hip Eats program gives me a hand up, and I’m able to buy healthy groceries. As a single mom, every hand up makes a difference. I can’t afford going out to eat, so the food vouchers are a blessing.”
With the support of donations, Hip Eats will be able to continue offering snack bags and meal vouchers during school breaks ranging from fall and spring breaks to the lengthy summer vacation. As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and your donations are helping these children in critical need of assistance. Thank you for your support and help in battling food insecurity among these students and families.