"We just want to help" is the rallying cry for Jimmy Chambers and Ressie Chambers, who are making and giving away masks. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Camp Chambers founder Jimmy Chambers last week had a feeling that a government-level suggestion to wear face masks in public might be coming as the coronavirus continued its march through Shelby County.

He said to wife and program director, Ressie Chambers, “Let’s give away free face masks.” And in perfect superhero fashion, they have saved the day for many.

“We organized Camp Chambers back in 2014 to mentor and tutor youth who might be facing some challenges,” said Jimmy Chambers.

“I’ve been with Christ United Methodist Church for 30 years. They have a private school that is predominantly white, and I am the head basketball coach. So, it has not only been boys in Frayser who have come through our program, but also Christ Methodist students. All children need support at some time.”

So, how did he get into the mask giveaway business?

Well, it starts with the need.

After some deliberation, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a recommendation recently for everyone to wear face masks when they go out in public. The Shelby County Health Department has endorsed that recommendation for all Shelby Countians.

Then there are the sobering numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases. As of Tuesday (April 7) morning, according to the Shelby County Health Department, the number of virus-related deaths in Memphis-Shelby County was 18. The total number of reported COVID-19 cases in the county had climbed to 845.

Statewide reported cases of COVID-19 were 3,802 by Monday afternoon, with 65 deaths.

While officials are recommending wearing facial masks, they are as difficult to find as hand sanitizer, toilet paper and rubber gloves. Homemade, do-it-yourself masks are recommended, leaving the N95 masks for medical professionals. The DIY option seems simple enough, except it’s just not an option for everyone.

“We just want to help,” Chambers said. “I knew people were having trouble finding protective items, including masks. And then, I thought about people who may be out of a job and can’t afford to pay for a mask. I asked my wife who we might get to make the masks for Camp Chambers.”

They posted the free-mask giveaway on their Facebook page, and it exploded with requests and pleas for masks.

“We have even mailed some to Jackson, Tennessee,” said Ressie Chambers. “We’ll even ship them out to those who need them.  Of course, this is not what we normally do. But then, these are not normal times, and however we can be a blessing, that’s what we want to do.”

The colorful and uniquely made masks come from Linda Renee Riley, Ressie Chambers’ hair dresser.

Camp Chambers started off ordering 100 from her, paying for that batch, and ordering another hundred. We’re down to our last few from that first hundred, but we expect to have additional masks to fill more orders this week.”

Camp Chambers doesn’t plan to stay in the mask giveaway business. Once the coronavirus has passed,  school-age children will once more be the main focus of the organization.

“Saving our youth, one life at a time” is the non-profit’s adage. This includes children with behavioral issues, young people who need gang awareness counseling and intervention, anti-bullying workshops, classes in personal responsibility, good citizenship, and any students in Frayser and beyond who just want to “hang out” with “The Chambers.”

“Of course, we’re not a camp at all,” said Jimmy Chambers. “Our services to youth are available all year ‘round. We got that name years ago when there was a child misbehaving, and a lady said, ‘Alright, I’m going to take you over there to Camp Chambers.’ And the name just kind of stuck.”

The couple rehabbed a blighted house at 2559 New Raleigh Road, and made it the organization’s headquarters.

While there is no cost for the masks, most recipients make donations to Camp Chambers.

“We appreciate all donations,” Jimmy Chambers. “They are just helping to get more masks on the faces of those who need them.  We’ll keep ordering more and giving them away as long as there is a need. We’ll see this thing to the end. Looks like the coronavirus may be in it for the long haul, and so are we.”

(To contact Camp Chambers, call: (901) 2446320, or email: [email protected]. Visit the website at: www.campchambers.com.)