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2020 Spirit of Service honoree alleviates hunger in our city

"Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need."

~ Frederick Buechner

There are so many ways to do good in this world. The journey comes in discovering which one calls to you most. For Tallu Schuyler Quinn '98, Harpeth Hall’s 2020 Spirit of Service Award honoree, the intersection for service came in her love for cooking and her call to ministry.

As the founder of The Nashville Food Project, Ms. Quinn has dedicated her career to bringing people together to grow, cook, and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city. She has been called to address great need.

In recognition of her valuable and life-changing work, Harpeth Hall named Ms. Quinn the 2020 Alumna Spirit of Service Award winner. The honor was awarded to Ms. Quinn last spring but due to COVID she was unable to come to campus to speak. This month, Ms. Quinn got that chance, sharing her journey with students about the many ways to do good in the world.

A quote from Tallu Schuyler Quinn '98, founder of The Nashville Food Project

“The world is full of great need,” Ms. Quinn said. “You only need to open your eyes and pay attention to what that is. That is our responsibility as good citizens of our community and the globe.”

Finding value in the journey is one of the life skills Ms. Quinn connects to her experience at Harpeth Hall, along with the skills to search for creative solutions to multi-faceted problems. 

In a 2020 Hallways magazine article honoring her work, Ms. Quinn reflected gratefully on having received encouragement from faculty to simply be herself and to dive deeply into her varied interests. She has always enjoyed cooking, learning about agriculture, social justice, and people. She is also passionate about eradicating poverty and noted, “for me, that was a bunch of things that turned into a career I love, and I’m lucky for that.”

The Harpeth Hall community has connected with and been inspired by that spirit. This year, through dual efforts led by students and the Harpeth Hall Parents Association, the school community collected 2,300 pounds of often-used ingredients to support the meals created, cooked, and delivered by The Nashville Food Project.

The Nashville Food Project’s approach is different from "emergency" food because the organization believes “that all the food in the world will not solve hunger.” Instead, the organization serves hot, healthful meals in partnership with more than 40 nonprofits across Nashville that work to disrupt poverty in various ways. The work is often focused on at-risk youth, refugees, the homeless, and meals for seniors. Right now, the organization prepares and shares about 4,500 meals a week.

As Ms. Quinn reflected on those efforts, she emphasized that feeding those who are hungry is just one important need. Students have multiple avenues through which to effect change. Through their time at Harpeth Hall, Ms. Quinn knows that students and young alumnae will be prepared to build a better world — and to experience the dividends of that focus.

“I’ve spent my adult life trying to create community, take care of my community, and be a vital help,” she said. “... Sometimes you think of community as something out there (beyond yourself), but I see so much of the gifts of the community that continue to come back to me and my family. … That is the beautiful thing about community. It is this circle.”

Ms. Quinn feels that now more than ever. She is 41 years old and has terminal brain cancer.

“It is a devastating diagnosis,” she said. “It has me thinking about my life and legacy in new ways, and I feel grateful for the space and opportunity to do that.”

That gratitude returns to Ms. Quinn in multitudes. Her legacy is a true gift to all impacted by her service and her humility.

“We can all hope to have a fraction of what Ms. Quinn has shown through her grace, her kindness, her authenticity, her vulnerability, and her strength,” Head of School Jess Hill said at the assembly. “She is a lighter, a giver, and a leader.”