Nashville-based Community Resource Center (CRC) serves more than 100 nonprofit agencies, providing them with new household goods, bedding, kitchenware, cleaning supplies, clothing and personal hygiene items for their clients in need. Its agencies represent a diverse client base that includes at-risk children, disadvantaged seniors, victims of domestic violence, refugees resettling in Middle Tennessee, the homeless, those battling addiction, those with mental and physical challenges and other people in desperate need. Founded in 1985, CRC operates a 5,000 square-foot warehouse from which it distribute all of these items. CRC has received $40,000 to support relief efforts in the aftermath of the March 3 Middle Tennessee tornadoes.
When Tina Doniger thinks big, we mean BIG.
As in boxes and boxes big.
On any given day, week or month, that would be part of the usual order of things at the Nashville-based Community Resource Center (CRC), where Doniger serves as executive director and one of the best partners a fellow nonprofit could ever have. Routinely working with scores of fellow nonprofits and partner agencies, CRC serves as the supply line to the front lines of poverty, supplying the necessities of life to thousands of at-risk and disadvantaged people.
There’s no usual order of things these days.
Not when a series of tornadoes barrels through Middle Tennessee in early March, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
Not when a worldwide pandemic from the still-unabated COVID-19 followed immediately afterward, prompting a quarantine state and worldwide economic disaster.
CRC has been on the front lines and there’s no slowdown on the horizon.
“We have been busier than ever and have several urgent donation requests!” read a mid-summer post on CRC’s Facebook page. The wish list included diapers, reusable shopping bags, nonperishable food items, snack foods, insect repellent, and dish soap.
The lists of needs are constantly changing, and used items are not accepted.
Bins in front of CRC’s offices, located just southeast of downtown at 218 Omohundro Place along the Cumberland River, facilitate contactless drop-offs.
And if you can’t donate items, the post concluded, “We are always looking for volunteers!!”
Doniger took time out of her always busy schedule to answer some questions from The Community Foundation.
CFMT: How have you been utilizing the tornado emergency response grant?
CRC: Our grant from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee was instrumental in providing solutions for the emergency needs directly in the weeks after the storms. With any large-scale natural disaster, the emergency needs are immediate, like tarps for roofs, cleaning supplies, tools, and basic necessities, as well as clothing or shoes. These items were gathered at our facility, sorted, and directly sent out to agencies that had set up within the impact zone and surrounding communities.
CFMT: In light of changes in how we all live and work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how has your organization managed to work in supporting tornado relief and recovery efforts? What challenges have you all overcome or are overcoming?
CRC: We continue to work on the long-term recovery of the survivors and their families today. We are providing mattresses, school clothes, household goods, and basic essentials every day to the families that are still struggling to put their lives back together. We coordinate with additional agencies to vet the needs and create a plan to aid the families in order to alleviate some of the stress from their lives. It’s amazing what just a bar of soap or new clothes, let alone a mattress, can do for someone.
Our biggest challenge stemming from COVID-19 has been our volunteer force. Within hours of the tornado, the CRC was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from Nashville. Strangers showed up to donate and stayed the day to volunteer. Friends answered the call to answer phones in our office and stayed for weeks. There was no shortfall in hands to fill the needs we were hearing about or experiencing firsthand.
Then [the pandemic and quarantine] occurred, and all of that stopped. We went from hundreds of helping hands to no one, and an uncertainty if we would be able to continue at the pace expected. We worked as best we could with one or two volunteers until we could really show the safety measures and ease the concern of working at the CRC.
We have steadily had 15 to 20 people throughout our shifts daily over the last few months. These individuals are often our regulars who attend on their specific day and even bring an additional friend to help in the madness that is sorting and packaging at the CRC warehouse.
CFMT: Give a favorite example or two of your staffers or volunteers stepping up to make a difference to help people through these disasters?
CRC: I will tell you that there are way too many stories to even try to pick out one or two. We could tell you about 4-year-old Levi and how he broke his piggy bank to donate the $14 in change for kids who lost all their toys. Or maybe highlight the random people that showed up with trucks and trailers on a random Saturday after the tornado to deliver load after load of supplies to North Nashville.
The reality is there is a story behind every kit of basic essentials and every delivery of supplies. There is a story behind why someone volunteered and the impact of being a part of the recovery just as much as the story behind what is meant to receive the donated goods as the survivor.
The true story is the Nashville spirit and what it means to love your neighbor. The mission of the CRC is to provide basic essentials to Nashville’s neighbors, but there is no way we could have done what we have done without the true Nashville spirit of supporting your neighbor in a time of crisis. Thank you Nashville!!
CFMT: In terms of tornado relief and recovery, what needs remain in your community or communities?
CRC: For us, tornado relief and recovery is a marathon. We might only be on Mile 2 at this moment. It is a race that Nashville will win if we all work together.
In some communities, it looks like the tornado was just there last night — we have to do better for our neighbors. We will continue to show up for their neighbors and their needs. We are committed to walking with these individuals and families until all are moved out of long-term recovery case management and the last house becomes a home again.
We will continue to have needs such as construction materials, clothing, and household goods over the next months to years. As we begin the rebuilding process, we will need companies to step forward to offer appliances, furniture, and more. Without these additional resources, the rebuilding process will take longer and financially impact us and other agencies.
CFMT: Define the word “hope” for you and your organization.
CRC: Hope for the Community Resource Center is the moment when a basic essential kit eases the burden for our neighbors. It is the exhaling breath that occurs when a survivor realizes they can utilize their financial resources in a different way than having to spend it on basic essentials.
Hope is also the ability for our agency partners to continue to focus on their mission-critical services, because we took the burden of supplying basic essentials and household goods that were needed. Our goal and mission of the CRC is to make sure that the Middle Tennessee nonprofits stay on track with their missions and provide these much-needed services. The CRC meets that goal when we efficiently expedite basic essentials through our network of partners, therefore meeting needs before they become emergencies.
Learn More About the Community Resource Center
Online at http://www.crcnashville.org/