Q&A with Executive Director, Tina Doniger and Cassie Jones
CJ: Tell me a little history about CRC - when it started and its role in the community. How long have you been with CRC and tell me a little bit about what lead you there and what your specific role is for the organization?
TD: The Community Resource Center formalized in the early 90’s, our focus is providing basic essentials to our most fragile neighbors in middle Tennessee. We provide new non-food basic essentials and small luxuries to nonprofits that are working the front lines of at-risk populations and underserved communities. Our warehouse acts as a distribution hub that serves over 100 nonprofits each month, they shop for the items that they need in order to provide services that their agencies might not be able to provide without additional support. Our average partner receives about $75,000 in retail goods each year.
I joined the Board of Directors about 6 years ago after volunteering and participating in Oyster Easter for almost 15 years. I always loved attending Oyster Easter, but it wasn’t until after the Flood of 2010 that I really understood the mission of the CRC and the role they played in the middle Tennessee nonprofit community. In January of 2019, our Executive Director retired and in April I took over as the Executive Director. My main focus is the operation of the organization, as well as adding new nonprofit partners, finding new companies to donate goods, and private businesses/groups to host basic essential drives.
CJ: Talk a little bit about March 3rd and how you learned the news of the deadly tornadoes and what CRC’s first response was. How did you spring into action?
TD: Truthfully, I went to bed after seeing that the storm had passed our home without any issue and thinking that I would be going into the warehouse later on Tuesday since I had some phone calls to make from home before I needed to be in for meetings. When I woke up and turned on the news, I knew that our city has been dramatically changed overnight and that it would impact the future of the CRC.
During the flood of 2010, the Community Resource Center, along with Hands on Nashville and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee entered into an ongoing agreement regarding our roles in Davidson county, and the surrounding counties, if a natural disaster occurred again. Our role was to activate the collection, organization and distribution of goods donated on behalf of the relief efforts. The morning of March 3, I instantly called our Board President, Maria Amado, sent an email to our Board and took to Facebook to make a call out for donations and volunteers. Within an hour, cars began showing up with donations, cars lined the streets surrounding our location as volunteers streamed into our warehouse. That first 24 hours is a blur, the phones were ringing off the hook and people were just walking in offering everything from forklifts to boxes to use of trucks. Companies that probably had never heard of the Community Resource Center were offering every kind of support they could and companies and nonprofits from across the county were reaching out to extend support and set up donation drives, sending trucks full of emergency kits and just offering prayers.
A huge thank you to Bowman Richards of Richard & Richards because without him or his team we would not have made it. He instantly brought in trucks, gaylord boxes to start moving product and ultimately offered his warehouse as a holding area for goods as they came in. We lacked a knowledge that Bowman had, how to collect large amounts of product, sort quickly, and then get it offsite in order to accept the next round of donations.
CJ: Let’s talk numbers. Numbers of volunteers, items donated, families affected. Any heart-warming examples that stand out about those you were able to help and impact directly.
TD: We know that we have roughly 3500 impacted households from the original tornado in the three counties we are currently serving in tornado relief. Additionally, we will be serving additional families that were not impacted by the tornado directly, but they were impacted with the loss of electricity or water damage from apartment sprinklers that went off. We will be working with these family’s long-term providing items like building supplies, household goods, beds, as well as immediate items like personal hygiene, clothing and even in some cases food.
We roughly have the equivalent of 50 semi-trucks full of goods donated so far. Due to COVID-19, those donations dramatically ended, and we will be working once Safer at Home order is lifted to begin receiving donations again. The need for relief will be long term, for example it took the last case from the May 2010 flood to be closed in 2015, so we are prepared to walk with the case workers and families to provide support along with multiple agencies for the foreseeable future.
The Volunteer Spirit is alive and well in Nashville and its surrounding counties. There were days that we had hundreds of volunteers show up. Holy Rosary Academy organized 150 volunteers to unpack a semi-truck that they had arranged to bring support from Bristol Motor Speedway and Foodlion. We had groups of volunteers who had come to Nashville for a Birthday Party or Bachelorette party and they spent their days at the CRC. One of our new friends, Janna Abaham, came and spent her whole birthday volunteering and even hosted a fundraiser for us. We roughly counted that we have had over 3000 volunteers throughout the first several weeks, certainly COVID-19 has forced us to limit our volunteers and specifically provide safety procedures for all volunteers and social distancing to keep everyone as safe as possible.
CJ: What are some examples of people and organizations in the community coming together to partner and collaborate to help tornado victims.?
TD: My experience has been that in the wake of a disaster those who serve regularly, serve with a vengeance. They jump into the fire and serve without sleep; they lend an ear of support and help brainstorm next moves. They stop what their ‘regular’ mission is to serve those in need. This has been my experience over and over again in the past month. Chris Whitney with One Gen Away has always answered my call and sent support where I didn’t have it. He helped us make connections in Putnam county, as well as helped our partners who were needing an additional food source to fill food banks throughout the counties. The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has financially impacted various nonprofits that are serving in the relief capacity and will continue to support financially as the long-term plans are made. Hands on Nashville has been our main conduit for volunteers. We could not handle the volume of donations that we have had without an army of volunteers who have just showed up and jumped right in to get the job done.
We have worked with over 60 different agencies that have been offering support throughout the three impacted counties. Many corporations, families, and corporations throughout middle Tennessee have reached out and done donation drives and sent financial support. We could not do this work without all of the outpouring of support we have received.
CJ: How far a net does CRC cast in terms of who you help? How far geographically do you go? Did you find that the outlining areas were getting less help and attention than North and East Nashville? Did that change how you all had to strategize in terms of tornado relief efforts?
TD: The Community Resource Center provides support to 24 counties and over 100 agencies throughout those 24 counties on a regular basis. We served 300,000 people last year through our partners. With the tornado we have set support all the way to Putnam county and will continue to lend support as they need. The saving grace with having this built in network is that we were able to mobilize support quickly and begin getting emergency needs met quickly. As the days went on, other churches and organizations began to set up in various areas that were impacted and so we have added at least another 40 to 50 new agencies that we have been distributing goods through to get to the front lines of relief.
While long term needs will vary based on the geographical location of neighborhoods, the emergency needs do not. We were getting tarps, rakes/shovels, basic essentials, diapers, etc. out the door as fast as we could to all impacted areas because those were the emergency needs. Long term needs will be different because of various factors, but the Community Resource Center is committed to providing essentials on an ongoing basis for however long we need to be to get through this.
The change that we are really seeing is in the wake of COVID-19. Not only are we meeting the needs of the tornado victims, but we are also needing to support at-risk populations with protective equipment, cleaning supplies and so much more. It’s like Nashville is experiencing a double disaster at the same time and we are limited to those that can help due to Safer at Home.
CJ: What do relief efforts look like now amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and how did this change relief efforts for tornado victims? What is the plan now for tornado relief and how can our community step up to continue to help Nashville and other counties affected?
TD: Right now, from your couches you can support financially in the relief efforts, as well as support our Amazon wish list. For those that are well and want to get involved we accept ten volunteers at each shift and those are all listed at HON.org.
A shift has been made in tornado relief and we are currently focused on fulfilling COVID-19 needs. We will be providing to food banks and agencies supplies for families being impacted by COVID-19. Our hope is that once we have the okay to proceed, we will go right back into our relief efforts and agencies will open their doors again to proceed in the relief efforts.
CJ: Any other things you would want the Williamson County community in particular to know about your organization, how to volunteer, what your needs are, etc.?
TD: If you run an organization serving an at-risk population or underserved population that is being impacted by COVID-19 please reach out to the Community Resource Center by sending an email to email@example.com.
Volunteer opportunities are limited at this time, but we welcome all volunteers, as long as they are well and not exhibiting any symptoms of illness. Volunteer shifts are posted at HON.org.
This double disaster that middle Tennessee is currently in will have long term effects on our cities, counties and state, but I truly believe that we can overcome these effects and be back to where we were before COVID-19 and the tornado. It will take a team effort to accomplish this. I challenge you that once we are encouraged to go back to work, school, volunteering, etc. that you don’t forget those who were impacted on March 3rd. They will need your help for a long time and while it may not be your next-door neighbor impacted, it is your neighbor in this great state of Tennessee and our neighborhoods that make up Nashville.