Serving as a bridge to the Nashville community

ASDA believes giving back to our communities is a key part of the dental student experience and as future dental practitioners. Over the next three weeks, we’re going to explore how dental students are making a significant impact in their local communities. Mark your calendars for ASDA’s upcoming Week of Service, “Renewing Our Reach,” Jan. 17-23, 2022, so you can make a difference in your community, too.

When I started at Meharry Medical College, I decided to dedicate my time at the first volunteer event they hosted: the Mt. Zion Back-to-School Event. We provided 38 free screenings and care to both children and adults. From this moment on, I was inspired to continue my journey in serving those less fortunate than myself. I love Meharry’s mission to give back to the underserved, and it was the primary reason I chose to become a student here.

During my first year of dental school, my colleagues and I organized an initiative to donate gently used and new clothing items to the Elam Mental Health Center, a facility that provides services to those with mental health disorders and substance abuse concerns. Seeing the impact we were making sparked my desire to continue my dedication to serving others and become the community chair during my second year.

As community chair, I wanted to identify an organization where we could make a meaningful impact. My local church Nashville Life provided a list of organizations where we could be a blessing, and I saw The Bridge Ministry on the list. As I learned more about The Bridge’s purpose and mission, I knew this was the organization I wanted to partner with.

The Bridge Ministry provides food and clothing for the homeless as well as those struggling with food insecurities. One in seven people living in Tennessee are food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to nutritious food. The Bridge began in November 2004 when Candy Christmas, the founder of The Bridge, started making huge pots of jambalaya to share with the homeless community living under the Jefferson Street Bridge — hence the name, The Bridge. After seeing the need was far greater than just one hot meal a week, Candy began collecting clothing and non-perishable food items as well. She would store everything in her garage, and friends would help her bag and distribute the goods. As others started learning about Candy’s vision to help feed and clothe the homeless, the mission began to grow.

What I love about The Bridge is that they don’t discriminate; they provide services regardless of income or proof. Some individuals and families in the area struggle with food security, but do not qualify for other programs in the area. The Bridge Ministry serves these people without question. Today, The Bridge is housed in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Nashville. This location stores the food for Tuesday evenings, where they serve 300-500 people as well as host a powerful worship service. This location also acts as a local food bank.

In addition to serving those under the Jefferson Street Bridge, they also have a passion for helping children through a program called “Bridge to Kids.” This initiative fills the backpacks of children on school-assisted lunch programs with food on Friday afternoons so they have food to eat over the weekend. This program currently serves over 4,000 children and bridges any gap in food security.

Despite the numerous challenges presented by COVID-19, the pandemic did open the door for The Bridge to touch even more lives than before. For the Bridge to Kids program, they started dropping off food to the apartment complexes where the students were living. Doing so alerted volunteers to even more families in that area in need. Seeing the incredible work The Bridge Ministry continues to achieve, I was inspired to coordinate a donation drive through class meetings and volunteer sign-ups. Thanks to my fellow Meharrians, we were able to contribute to this amazing organization with bulk food and drink donations.

Meharry has instilled within me a desire to give back whenever possible. I’ve participated in various events such as From Your Father, Children’s Oral Health Day and Meharry Sunday. Donating my time at these events and at my church through the prayer team make me feel even more joyful. I feel more blessed to give than to receive because the impact you have by lending a helping hand can completely turn your day around. It is encouraging and uplifting to see the impact just one person can make. Slowly but surely, we are changing the world through love, unity and kindness. It is an honor to be part of a school that encourages us to serve, and I am beyond grateful to be a Meharrian.

Join Deirdre in participating in ASDA’s Week of Service, “Renewing Our Reach” from Jan. 17-23, 2022, to continue serving those in need and building our communities.

~Deirdre Hillard, Meharry ’23

Deirdre Hillard

Deirdre Hillard, a third-year dental student at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, has dedicated her time to her academics, faith and volunteering. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Deirdre is the oldest of her two siblings. Her life experience alone speaks for her well-rounded skills, generosity and knowledge.

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