Churches, community groups battle scorching heatwave to feed hundreds of Memphis families

Zoey Daniels (left) and Shan Fite (right) package peanut butter for food distribution at Eastside Community Church in Memphis, Tennessee, on July 15, 2020.
Zoey Daniels (left) and Shan Fite (right) package peanut butter for food distribution at Eastside Community Church in Memphis, Tennessee, on July 15, 2020. | Blake Fussell

MEMPHIS — A smoldering heat index of 105 degrees did not deter Jordan Griffin and dozens of masked and socially distanced volunteers from serving in Memphis Wednesday to package and provide food and prayer to hundreds of hungry families in need during the pandemic.

Eastside Community Church is hosting a socially-distanced food drive that will continue weekly throughout the summer in partnership with the Mid-South Food Bank, and other churches and community members of various demographics.

“The food bank delivers a truck with items depending on the quantity we feed,” Griffin, Eastside Community Church’s youth mission leader, told The Christian Post. “This is important because the virus has elevated the area’s needs, which has surpassed the typical ability to fill the need.”

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Up to 500 households in the Memphis area receive food from them each week, according to Griffin. Those in need pick up food in a drive-thru where they're also offered prayer. Included with each food package is a paper that includes a Bible verse on one side and a church service information on the other side written in English and Spanish. Those receiving food can inform volunteers of their prayer requests, which are recorded and later prayed over in the volunteers’ “prayer room.”

Griffin said that the weekly program started in response to the pandemic. But he believes it might become an annual event. 

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap Project, over 140,000 people in the Memphis area were already food insecure before the pandemic began.

“Hunger is a worldwide, year-round pandemic and COVID only elevated that,” Griffin told CP. “It’s easy to focus on the negative because people are dying and the racial injustice, but it’s encouraging to see the community help counterbalance that negativity on a local level.”

Nearly 40 volunteers were present on Wednesday. Masked men, women and children worked together in an assembly line to get organized before the drive-thru opened.

Eastside Community Church member Shan Fite packaged peanut butter alongside high school student Zoey Daniels, who attends Harvest Church in Memphis.

“There’s a definite need right now, especially with the virus happening,” Daniels told CP. “People deserve to have food in their pantry, especially the parents working all day.”

According to the city’s coronavirus update on Tuesday, active coronavirus cases increased by 410 in a single day after positive results came in following lab delays in processing due to increased testing and demand. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has also ordered bars to reclose, adding to the financial insecurity the lockdown has caused residents who continue to be out of work during the pandemic. 

Eastside Community Church Senior Pastor Josiah Lawrence acknowledged the accelerated need for food in the area. He also said he's proud of the churches that have taken the opportunity to help and spread the hope of Christ.

“It can be easy to tell people about Jesus, but showing and telling are like two wings on the airplane,” Lawrence said. “I think this has been a pretty cool way to do it.”

The packaged food is available for any person with a photo I.D. Food packages are loaded into a person’s vehicle by volunteers who are required to wear face masks and gloves and socially-distance.

The Mid-South Food Bank has also provided a mobile pantry at Eastside Community Church and offers food at other locations throughout West Tennessee and North Mississippi. The food bank is active year-round and has established safety precautions during COVID-19.

“There is hope in the Gospel, but it’s hard to think about hope when you’re hungry,” Lawrence added. “Jesus was clear and the pandemic kind of reminds us, we can become the ones in need overnight.”

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