"Show up, speak up, and remember that we're here to keep the light on for other people." Congratulations to our 2020 Alumna Spirit of Service Award Recipient – Tallu Schuyler Quinn '98
The National Advisory Council has selected Tallu Schuyler Quinn, class of 1998 as the recipient of the Alumna Spirit of Service Award for her ingenuity, dedication, and passion for creating and building something beneficial for people in her community through The Nashville Food Project.
Tallu learned early on how much edible food is wasted in our food economy. While living in Boston during the 2008 financial crisis and working at a national grocery chain, she discovered that people all over the country were struggling to find work, yet businesses were egregiously throwing away usable food. Seeing good food treated as trash was difficult to witness for employees making less than ten dollars an hour and highlighted for Tallu how much edible food is wasted in our food economy. She says of her grocery store days, "it felt like a job to nowhere...but that 'job to nowhere' has been one of the experiences that informs my work the most. Without that difficult experience, I'm not sure I would have known to consider that resource [of discarded food] as something we could beautifully turn into community meals for people to share."
Tallu landed back in Nashville and leveraged that experience to found The Nashville Food Project, with a mission to "bring people together to grow, cook, and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city." Since 2009, she has driven impressive growth in the organization and transformed the way Nashville understands, talks about, and addresses hunger and food insecurity in our midst. The Nashville Food Project currently employs 23 staff members and boasts a legion of over 500 volunteers each month who work in their gardens and kitchens, prepare and distribute meals, and recover food from local farmers, grocers, and restaurants.
The organization runs two community kitchens where staff and volunteers cook hot, healthful meals from recovered, donated, and garden-grown food. Food distribution vehicles share approximately 5,500 meals across the Nashville area each week in partnership with over 35 community organizations. An ambitious $5 million capital campaign recently raised funds to expand operations and further their reach, projecting growth from 175,000 meals distributed in 2018 to over 500,000 in 2022. By those metrics, it would be easy to claim victory--but Tallu notes that success is not linear, inevitable, or complete.
When asked about her Harpeth Hall experience, Tallu reflects gratefully on having received encouragement from faculty to simply be herself, and to dive deeply into her varied interests. In her case, she has always enjoyed cooking, learning about agriculture and social justice. She is also passionate about eradicating poverty and notes, "for me, that was a bunch of things that turned into a career I love, and I'm lucky for that." Finding value in struggle is one of the life skills she also connects to her experience at Harpeth Hall, along with searching for creative solutions to multi-faceted problems. She notes that one of the most transformative aspects of her Harpeth Hall experience was an emphasis on the belief that students can be agents of change, and they are encouraged to think about how they can contribute to solutions, big or small.
Her affirmative experiences at Harpeth Hall are reflected in her hopes for current students and young alumnae looking to build a better world: "When we have the privilege of piecing together or finding a fit in the world to make us come alive and affect the community around us, that's a gift." Tallu sincerely believes that we need to "show young people that leadership is not about force and power. It's about being true, equitable, and brave. It's about showing our vulnerability." In the end she is convinced that the answer is to not let perfect be the enemy of good. "Show up, speak up, and remember that we're here to keep the light on for other people."
Tallu will be featured in our upcoming Spring 2020 Hallways magazine due in homes soon. Click here for a sneak preview. Tallu will speak at an all school assembly and will be honored at a reception at Harpeth Hall this fall.