This winter, we expanded our meal packaging program to beautiful and vibrant Nashville, Tennessee. Read below to get to know the newest member of the Stop Hunger Now family, our Nashville Program Manager, Eric Taft!

How did you wind up at Stop Hunger Now and what do you do here?

I spent two years with my wife in rural Guatemala building a small business to generate revenue for a local school. It was an amazing and formative experience for me, and had a huge impact on how I see the world. As that project was wrapping up, I began looking at organizations in my hometown of Nashville that are truly changing the world. When I found out about Stop Hunger Now, I was immediately energized by the enthusiasm and urgency they operate with while working toward one of society’s greatest goals: ending world hunger.
IMG_3075During my second interview for my current position with Kyle Galenski, Regional Program Manager, my wireless connection at the school in Guatemala was awful and the Skype call kept dropping. We had to pause the interview for 15 minutes so I could take a dirt bike to the top of the nearest hill to find a better signal. I was thankful he didn’t let that ruin our conversation, and I got a glimpse of their company culture from that experience; the most important thing about a challenge is to HANDLE IT!
Now, as the Program Manager for Nashville, I’m responsible for launching the new operation and finding community partners that align with our vision of ending hunger in our lifetime. Thankfully, Nashville and the surrounding areas are full of amazing institutions of all varieties that are passionate about making a positive contribution to humanity, both in their local communities and abroad.

What inspired you to become involved in hunger relief?

When I worked at the school in Guatemala, the first thing the staff did every morning was feed the students and other children from the community in need of a meal. I didn’t realize the significance of these meals until after about six months. Many children had arrived at the beginning of the year so frail, shy, and constantly distracted. Before I knew it, they had transformed into healthy, energetic, and focused students simply because of two nutritious meals provided by the school each day.
It became obvious that feeding people, especially children, is the first step in transforming their lives. Without basic nourishment, humans cannot move beyond their current circumstances, and, as a result, society cannot benefit from the contributions they can offer.
IMG_2287The second piece that inspired me was Stop Hunger Now’s emphasis on gender equality and the importance of educating girls. I remember one student whose parents would fight weekly with the school principal because they wanted to remove her from school. They argued that she would be more productive cleaning the house and taking care of children than continuing past 8th grade. Thankfully, the local principal was so dedicated to defending this girl’s future and her right to an education, she convinced the parents week after week to give their daughter that chance.
Stop Hunger Now is convincing reluctant parents across the world to give their daughters that chance to have a future and achieve a life greater than their parents by donating meals to school feeding programs. Lowering meal costs for families is one of the most convincing ways to get parents to take the first step towards enrolling them in school. Fighting hunger isn’t about feeding people; fighting hunger is about transforming lives and changing the systems that created it.
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What’s your favorite spot in Nashville?

Wow. There are so many great places in Nashville, and new spots are opening up all the time. When I was a kid, Nashville was still a small city where tourists came to buy cowboy boots and see the Honky Tonks. Now it’s booming with hipsters looking for music, cuisine, and microbreweries. To be with friends, I like the local dive pool hall. Melrose Billiards is in the smoky old basement of an old theater and it sort of takes you back in time. It has plenty of pool and ping pong to pass time on a weeknight with the guys.

Who do you look up to?

My mom and dad are my biggest heroes. I learned everything I know from them. My dad is a pastor at a small church in Nashville and my mom is the secretary/family counselor there as well. They’re the hardest working people I know and never ask for recognition or return. They wake up every day and give selflessly to their community and their children. I hope I’ll grow up to have an ounce of my dad’s drive and my mom’s wisdom. Just being a fraction of who they are would be a success for me.

What is your vision for Stop Hunger Now Nashville?

Nashville Skyline
From all segments of society in Nashville, I meet people that are concerned about the world’s most pressing issues and are always willing to plug in and contribute. I believe I can expect no less with the work of Stop Hunger Now. I expect to see groups of all types – churches, companies, civic groups, schools, friends – join together to host events and spread the word. People around the world will look to Nashville and see our resolve to mobilize the resources necessary to stop hunger now.
Our goal in year 1 is to package over 1 million meals – that’s incredible! But my hope is that people will be so moved by the enormous impact they can have with such a simple act, that in coming years we will dwarf that number. I want to package 1 million meals in one month, or one weekend, or one day!
To achieve that goal, I don’t need more volunteers. I need champions. I need people that don’t show up because they want to feed someone – they show up because they want to end hunger. Those people are in Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and throughout all of Tennessee – even to the smallest town in the farthest corner. I hope they join more than an event; I hope they join the movement to end hunger in our lifetime.

Here’s your chance to be a champion: Come out on March 5th to meet Eric (and Vince Gill!) and help us usher in a new era of global hunger-fighting in TN at our grand opening event. Click HERE to save your spot.

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