Nashville homeless outreach organization offers more than free meals

Around the holiday season in 2008, Ryan Lampa and a group of his friends became aware of the need in Nashville and decided prepare meals to give to the homeless. They brought a few meals downtown, met five people, and spent two hours talking and hanging out with them. Lampa said this experience changed him.

“That night we went out to dinner afterwards and just sat there are looked at our food” Lampa said. “We had trouble eating that night and we realized that we had an opportunity to help.”

After that first night, Lampa felt that this was something he should do on a regular basis. At first they started to prepare meals monthly, but Lampa felt that he was being called to do it more often. By the following January, the group was meeting every Monday and preparing a few dozen meals. Friends started to invite other friends and people began to donate money and clothing.

“We started really, really small and it just grew,” Lampa said.

Belmont Church offered their kitchen space after hearing about what they were doing, allowing People Loving Nashville to grow even more. Now a group of about 20 to 30 volunteers meets in the kitchen every Monday to prepare food and sort clothing donations, then distribute it at the War Memorial Plaza down the road. Many of the volunteers have been involved for years.

According to Whitney Peterson, a long time volunteer, it is the focus on creating relationships in addition to meeting the physical needs of food and clothing with the people they serve that sets People Loving Nashville apart from other organizations.

“They’ll come and they’ll get to have a conversation, Peterson said about the people they serve. “They’re treated like people, they’re respected, and build relationships.”

Through the cultivation of this community, Lampa and other volunteers have learned that they are not that different from the people they serve.

“They struggle with the same sort of things,” Lampa said. “We find that a lot of times it was just a bad hand that was dealt to them.”

“We talk all the time about how we are one decision away from being homeless and not being able to afford food,” Colleen Lampa, Ryan Lampa’s sister and long time volunteer, said.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) there are approximately 9,123 homeless people in Tennessee in 2015. The Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition notes that because of the method used to gather this information, this is only an estimate and is potentially off by about 40–60%. HUD collects this information by counting the number of homeless people on a single night in late January. The Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition claims this number is so inaccurate because it does not account for people “who were in motels, who were couch-surfing with a friend, or who were in hidden places.”

According to Lampa, their mission is not to end homelessness, but to create a community of love and support.

“None of us are professionals, but we know that we can sit and pray with somebody,” Lampa said. “We can sit and hug them and tell them ‘hey, we’re here for you’. We know we can’t fix this, but we’re here.”

Their Facebook page reflects that same sentiment is filled with message after message of hope, requests for specific needs, opportunities to give and serve, and overwhelming love for the community and people who are a part of it.

People Loving Nashville can be found at online peoplelovingnashville.com.