Service in Action: MTSA student Emily Colwell leads COVID relief effort

During the COVID-19 outbreak, MTSA senior Emily Colwell, SRNA (Class of 2020, right), recognized a need within Nashville’s healthcare community that had not been addressed—providing care for those on the frontlines of the crisis. So she jumped into action.

ABOVE PHOTO: As part of the School’s Mission Initiative, MTSA donated $5,000 to the Frontline Foods effort, which provided 350 meals to hospital units throughout Nashville.

“Many of my ICU nurse friends—several in New York and California—were working in warlike conditions. The accounts of their experiences were chilling,” Colwell said. “Because I wasn’t actively working as a nurse, I felt that I couldn’t do anything to help. But after some research, I found Frontline Foods, which is leading the effort to feed hospital staff and provide some relief during this time of immense stress and pressure.”

The Frontline Foods coalition is a grassroots national movement that coordinates with hospitals and restaurants to identify the needs of the healthcare community and then facilitates the delivery of meals to hospitals and other facilities.

Seeing there was no local chapter in Nashville, Colwell took the initiative to contact the national organization and offer to start one. She quickly became acquainted with the organization’s founder and helped launch the Nashville chapter of Frontline Foods in a matter of days.

“I initially brought the idea of connecting MTSA to this effort to [Assistant Program Administrator] Leigh Taylor, my mentor and a professor in several of my classes. She has always been very supportive, and she was onboard from the start and asked what she could do to help. I also contacted [MTSA President] Dr. Hulin, and he immediately agreed that MTSA should be involved,” Colwell said.

Colwell hit the ground running, contacting local hospital units as well as administrators. She and the team also identified independently owned restaurants in the community that needed help staying afloat.

“Having worked at Vanderbilt in the past and completed clinical rotations at many other hospitals in Nashville, I was able to quickly make inroads and find out who would be best served. After onboarding several restaurants, obtaining hospital approvals, and receiving sufficient funds via donations, we started the food deliveries,” Colwell said.

MTSA donated $5,000 to the effort, which provided 350 meals to hospital units throughout Nashville. Funds came from net proceeds of the Mission & Awards Gala and Golf Classic events. These two donor-supported community events fund MTSA mission initiatives both locally and abroad.

Hospitals that received meals included:

  • Ascension Saint Thomas West Hospital
  • Ascension Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital
  • Nashville General Hospital
  • Northcrest Medical Center
  • Sumner Regional Medical Center
  • Tristar Centennial Medical Center
  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center

In addition, Colwell and the Frontline Foods team observed a need in other high-stress areas, such as rehabilitation and hospice facilities. So they also were able to serve Alive Hospice, Diversicare, Encompass Health Rehabilitation Facility and Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Facility.

“MTSA was the first large donor that stepped up in the community, which really helped jump start our efforts and shine a light on our mission,” Colwell said. “In addition, the School was able to secure a commitment from the local Coca-Cola distributor which provided drinks with the meals.

“Everyone who received meals was so appreciative. Over and over again, they would thank us for supporting them. The level of appreciation we saw reminded me just how important this effort is. I remember when I was a nurse or even as an SRNA in clinicals, getting a free meal—not having to worry about my lunch for the day—is a huge relief,” Colwell added.

She said one of the reasons she chose to attend MTSA is the School’s focus on a life of service, which aligned with her upbringing: “My mother raised me to focus on doing things for other people. She really shaped who I am, and it was important to me to attend a school like MTSA that also fosters the same values. That’s why I knew the School would be a part of this effort and be supportive of my involvement.”

Restaurants involved in the effort included Caffe Nonna, The Donut + Dog, Edley’s BBQ, 5th and Taylor, Milano II, Pancho & Lefty’s, Urban Grub and Vui’s Kitchen.

According to Colwell, Frontline Foods Nashville has raised $31,000 and provided 2,000 meals to healthcare workers in Middle Tennessee. This included the special “Cast It On” awareness campaign and donations from casts of TV shows such as “Scandal” and “Blackish.”

Frontline Foods conducts its efforts in partnership with World Central Kitchen, a non-profit international relief organization led by chef José Andrés.

Colwell credits her mom, Laura Colwell, and twin sister and nurse Abby Welch, for giving her encouragement while she coordinated the Frontline Foods project, as well as her fiancé and fellow classmate Payam Fathi. They plan to marry in May 2021.

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