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AARP AARP States Tennessee Livable Communities

Grants Target Poverty, Hunger in Bid to Boost Livability in Tennessee

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A newly funded community refrigerator sits outside in Jackson, Tennessee. The city of Jackson undertook a project to reduce food insecurity among low-income residents. It installed two refrigerators stocked with fresh produce in areas frequented by older residents.
Photo by Emily Moses

When a Nashville organization looked to transform areas of the city into more welcoming and livable places, it leaned on those 50-plus to lead the way.

“They have skills—they have years of experience, resources and knowledge—that we want to tap into,” says Hwesi Zanu, grants facilitator at Neighbor 2 Neighbor, a local nonprofit.

Those residents—many retired—are helping host a series of leadership development luncheons known as Igniting Your Neighborhood Passion, which will run through November. The program is funded by an AARP Community Challenge grant, one of five given statewide in 2022, totaling nearly $38,000. Others went to locations around the state, with three targeting food insecurity.

The Nashville grant is administered by Neighbor 2 Neighbor, which trains residents on how to improve their communities. The luncheons will be held at FiftyForward senior centers in and around the city.

Participants can get involved in everything from neighborhood beautification programs

to making sure that Nashville Metro Council members keep promises they’ve made to residents, Zanu says.

Since 2017, AARP Tennessee has awarded 18 community challenge grants and more than $223,000 to nonprofit organizations and government entities across the state. AARP awards the grants to improve the quality of life for residents, says Mia McNeil, state director of AARP Tennessee.

“People want to age in place,” McNeil says. “And the best way to do that is to make sure that they have a place that is welcoming and accommodating, and provides them with the resources they need in order to do so.”

Recipients spread statewide

Jackson: The West Tennessee city will fund a pilot project in which two refrigerators are stocked with fresh produce, for people who can’t afford it. The program will help those struggling to pay for the rising costs of groceries, says Abby Palmer, coordinator for Jackson’s Love Your Block program.

“We didn’t see a whole lot of options for people to get fresh food the way they can get nonperishable food,” she says.

The community refrigerators will be located next to First Methodist church, at 200 S. Church St., and by the Jackson Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, at 900 E. Chester St. Palmer hopes that people will donate fresh produce to the refrigerators after the grant money runs out.

Cumberland County: In the East Tennessee city of Crossville, a grant will convert a picnic shelter at the Obed River Park into a space to hold classes on everything from fall prevention to gardening.

Montgomery County: In the Middle Tennessee city of Clarksville, funds will help create a community garden for residents to grow their own food. Classes will be offered to teach residents planting and healthy food preparation techniques.

Memphis: For The Kingdom, a nonprofit, will create Exodus Marketplace in Raleigh, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. The program aims to reduce food insecurity by providing access to fresh produce.

For a list of AARP Community Challenge grants nationwide, go to

Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.

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