Nashville, Tennessee. As temperatures have dipped into the single-digits in Middle Tennessee, 15 people have been found dead outside in the cold within the past month. Of those, ten have been confirmed by the Chief Medical Examiner of Nashville, Dr. Feng Li, to have died from hypothermia, and the majority of these have been unhoused people. In stark contrast, Dr. Li reports that there were no hypothermic deaths in the 2016-2017 winter. To combat this, on January 3rd, Nashville Anarchist Black Cross, Nashville AntiFa and Middle Tennessee Autonomous Network together with several other community members provided a hot meal and free store for the unhoused in downtown Nashville. The execution of this mutual aid was successful and generated positive feedback from our community as well as interest from other autonomous collectives in our protocol. To facilitate sharing this praxis, we are providing detailed information below on the preparation of our hot meal (including cost, ingredients, recipe, and time to prepare), the execution of the hot feed, the assembly and dissemination of clothing and hygiene items in a street-side free store, and the threats and challenges we faced with this project to be used as guidance for other collectives.
In the days prior to the hot feed, our collective took gloves, granola bars, scarves, and other winter gear downtown to help the unhoused and we also scouted places where they were congregating for warmth. Our observations indicated around 50-60 people were present in the greenspace directly across from the Nashville Public Library. We determined that we should prepare 50-75 servings of a hot meal to accommodate the number of folks residing in this area. Our collectives had communicated with several mutual aid groups prior to this hot feed including Detroit Food Not Bombs, Great Lakes AntiFa, and a member of a church mission which feeds homeless individuals in Knoxville, Tennessee. We settled on using a recipe for chicken noodle soup which was calorically rich, as well as high in protein, fat, and carbohydrate sources. It made 75 servings at ten ounces per serving. The recipe is as follows:
Chicken broth base- Comes in 91 serving size for $3.42 (add 750 ounces or around 5.8 gallons of water)
Noodles- 5 packages at $0.84/each
Carrots- 2 bags (one pound each) at $1.42/each
Onions- bag of 5 onions for $0.99 (we only used two onions)
Celery- one bag (one pound) $0.99
Bowls- 2 packages of 50 bowls for $1.32/each
Spoons- 2 packages of 48 spoons for $0.97/each
Napkins- 160 napkins for $1.08
Saltines- two boxes (4 packs each) for $0.80/each
Bottled water- four 24-packs for $1.99/each
Total cost: $29.26 Average cost per serving of soup: $0.19 Average meal cost per person: $0.38
The broth was made by using a teaspoon of broth base per 8 ounces of water. The broth was brought to a boil in large saucepans before adding dry noodles (noodles were added to fill approximately ¾ of the broth. The noodles were cooked until they were pliable but firm (you will place the hot noodles into a thermos container and they will continue to cook during transit, so you want them to not be fully cooked). Concomitantly, while the noodles cooked, vegetables including the carrots, onions and celery were chopped. We placed vegetables into a bamboo steamer placed on top of a glass pyrex dish filled with boiling water and cooked them in four small batches. Alternatively, the vegetables could be cooked with the pasta or could be cooked in a skillet with a small amount of oil. When the noodles and vegetables were done cooking, they were placed into a 7-gallon Rubbermaid beverage container. We procured ours for around $55 on Amazon.com, but any 7-gallon insulated beverage container would work. The Rubbermaid version was helpful because of its low, wide construction, making it easy to place on a table and serve without being too tall to reach into. It’s spillproof design was very helpful when transporting very hot soup. It took 1 hour and 15 minutes to prepare this recipe from beginning to end.
When we arrived at the feed location, we set up two separate tables for stations. One station was for the hot food, while the other was for the free store. At the hot food station, we set up an assembly line from right to left with bowls, the soup with two ladles (so two people could serve at once, each flanking the Rubbermaid container of soup), spoons, napkins, crackers and bottled water. This worked well because the servers could hand a bowl of hot soup to the recipient, then they could move along the assembly line and get spoon, napkin and crackers before finally grabbing their beverage. We were able to feed 64 people, with several returning for second servings.
It was clear that the warm soup was lifting the spirits of the folks we were serving. An acapella singing group spontaneously formed with very talented singers improvising their own versions of Adele’s “Hello” which were scathingly directed at Nashville Mayor, Megan Barry.
Hello Megan Barry…….
You left us cold and hungry……..
And we’ve called to tell you……
That you really suck…………
Additionally, two individuals praised us that the hot chicken soup was the best they’d ever had. We had brought chips and a few vegan snacks in case anyone had dietary restrictions, but no one refused the hot soup for those cold options. One man proclaimed he could eat “thirty servings, if you had enough for me to!” He was right, we’d underestimated the need for multiple servings (a challenge we will address further below).
After enjoying a warm meal, we invited the individuals in the park to peruse the Free Store table, which included a variety of donated items including: sweaters, leggings, hats, gloves, scarves, coats, shoes, socks, boots, pants, pajamas, toothbrushes, blankets, sheets, alcohol wipes, combs, and more. We had brought almost two carloads of items and virtually all were distributed. We helped two men and two women pick out new outfits for job interviews and the items they selected included button-down Oxford shirts, v-neck sweaters, khaki pants, dress socks and shoes, tunic-style dresses and leggings with boots, etc.
Additionally, at the end of our table, we included free Anarchist literature (from CrimethInc and from our local Anarchist Black Cross) for anyone who was interested.
As we distributed food and free store items, we had numerous people pull over beside the park to ask us what we were doing. One person left, then returned with a large box of apple slices in individual packs and asked us to distribute these among the folks we were serving. A woman stopped and gave us a large bag of hats, mittens, scarves, blankets, and women’s winter coats. Nashville Rescue Mission volunteers also came upon us and offered us HotHands handwarmers to distribute.
Threats and challenges
As we were concluding the hot meal distribution, we began to pack up any remaining food items (crackers, chips, apple slices) as well as gloves, hats, and handwarmers. We placed these into backpacks and walked around the city to meet folks were they are in case they cannot travel to the park. Before we left the immediate vicinity of the park, we encountered an elderly man who was disoriented, flushed, and feverish. He was in respiratory distress and clearly very ill. We transported him by car immediately to the local urgent care center for examination.
It is clear that one challenge we must address, is the need to prepare multiple servings of food to accommodate the recipients in the park. Many divulged to us that this was the first hot meal they’d received in days, some had received no calories that day and this was their first meal. Thus, for future feeds, we will likely double the recipe and purchase a second dispenser to accommodate this.
It is also clear that we must be cognizant of the timing of the feed. We began setting up at 4:50 p.m. and began distributing food between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m. We continued distributing items until almost 9:30 p.m. This was an excellent time because we were able to catch many folks as they prepared to catch shuttles to shelters, and we were straddling the time between second and third shift so we were able to feed folks as they prepared to go to work, or as they were completing their shift at work. Nearly every person we spoke with was grappling with working a full-time job while being unhoused. It is noteworthy that this is likely due to the violent gentrification within Nashville which is rapidly making affordable housing a crisis for the working class, who end up on the streets when they cannot pay the exorbitant rents extracted by the petit bourgeoisie.
Another threat we encountered was right-wing aggression. It is important to note that we have done numerous sack lunch style feeds, but this was our first hot meal to serve to the unhoused. As such, we generally distribute sack lunches in a mobile fashion out of backpacks while walking around the city. We have always done this while displaying visible signs of our affiliation. Serving hot food imposes less mobility, making us more visible and vulnerable. While we were feeding, passersby noticed our AntiFa and Anarchist designations and made posts on social media calling for their friends to drive into us. Interestingly, it was revealed by comrades at Anonymous Tennessee, that the original poster, Sgt. Casey Gillespie is a member of the Tennessee State Guard and his co-conspirator John Venable and him were bantering about using a so-called “deuce-and-a-half” which is vernacular for an M35/ G742 Multi-purpose medium class military truck. They posted the following: “Given that the roots of the Tennessee State Guard lay in the fight against the KKK and random acts of terror, it might concern them that Sgt. Casey Gillespie and his friend #JohnVenable were making jokes about driving a car into a crowd of people providing food and clothing to those in need; much like the fascists joked about doing the same thing shortly before the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last year. #TennesseeStateGuard can be reached at (931) 738-2516, h/t to America’s Police Problem for the number”.
Thus, it is critical that all Antifascists and Anarchists doing mutual aid recognize that the risk of right-wing terror is not confined to direct confrontations with fascists at rallies or demonstrations. The threat of violence is imminent, even during activities as innocuous as feeding and clothing those struggling to survive on the streets.
Our future plans for this type of mutual aid direction action will include: scaling up the amount of food we distribute, incorporating new recipes to diversify the nutrient sources we provide, committing to doing the hot feed at least once a week or more. The community response has been overwhelmingly positive, and as we write this praxis document, a local family has contacted our social media page to ask us if we will distribute 100 servings of hot pasta and bread that they would like to donate. It is our highest hope that by publishing this praxis, we will inspire others to try hot meal service in their town, it will generate interest in donating to groups providing meals to the hungry on the streets, or that it will facilitate conversations about serving the needs of the unhoused in our communities.