(Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

“I prayed last night and asked the Lord to please let people come out to our event,” said Ruby Bright, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis (WFGM).

Talk about answered prayer!

WFGM’s Ruby Bright greets one of the hundreds who were served by the COVID-19 Response effort in 38126. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

WFGM – a high-profile social service organization – kicked off its “38126 COVID-19 Response Project” on the grounds of the old Georgia Avenue Elementary School on Friday. One measure of the response was the long line of cars that snaked along the side street of the parking lot.

Drawing from mountains of food and hygiene supplies, a force of masked volunteers filled each vehicle with a bounty of staples. Hundreds waited patiently to turn onto the parking lot, where cheerful, happy helpers loaded them up.

“We wanted to do something for the community,” said Bright. “Our foundation has long been concerned about the people in this South Memphis area. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic all but ravaged an already impoverished community struggling to stay afloat,” she said.

“Our assessment of what the more dire needs are right now inspired this giveaway of food and household supplies. It’s so wonderful to see everyone coming out today.”

Bright stood waving at drivers and occupants who waved back and yelled “Thank you,” before driving off.

WFGM got by with a help from friends – lots of generous, caring friends who wanted to make a difference with a positive gesture of concern. The foundation was joined by volunteers from the FedEx Global Citizenship Department, Heart to Heart International, and International Medical Corps.

“We are a part of the FedEx disaster response team,” said Rachel Kesselman, the community advisor of FedEx Global. “We go all over when help is needed, and this event today was one we are very proud to be a part of.”

FedEx donated the hygiene kits, along with Heart to Heart and International Medical Corps, as part of its “FedEx Cares 50 by 50” initiative. The company is looking to positively impact 50 million people around the globe by its 50th anniversary in 2023.

“In times of crisis, we mobilize our network quickly to help the communities where we live and work,” said Adrian Pomi, director of FedEx Global. “At FedEx, keeping the world connected in good times and during periods of great need, is who we are and what we do every day.”

International Paper was an integral part of the event, providing the huge boxes vital to the massive giveaway.

“International Paper recognizes that our corrugated boxes are essential for the generous projects of our community organizations, said Dynisha Woods, global citizenship coordinator of Community Engagement.

“This event was so important because it casts a wide safety net for those most in need during this pandemic. We are pleased to mobilize our products to aid this community, and we are proud to support the Women’s Foundation for Greater Memphis.”

ZIP code 38126 has the highest rate of poverty in Memphis and Tennessee. WFGM is involved in a multi-year effort to reduce poverty in the South Memphis community. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

The giveaway is the first of several initiatives to come, according to Bright. May 1 carried with it a special significance for the foundation.

“May 1 would have been the day we hosted our annual luncheon,” said Bright. “It is our major fundraiser for the year. “But of course, the COVID-19 pandemic made that impossible.

“We understand that other nonprofits have also been unable to access their normal funding opportunities. Nevertheless, our work in 38126 this year has only just begun. We’re taking a holistic approach to meeting the needs of this community.”

Bright said was important to “acknowledge and address that this pandemic has inflicted great trauma everywhere, but especially for impoverished communities, such as those in 38126. Our children don’t have the access to an online device in the household to keep up with their studies. Many parents don’t know how to go about setting up a home school situation to help their children,” she said.

“We are concerned that the digital divide will be a digital chasm whenever students return to school. We are reaching out to our partners to help us address this very important need.”

WFGM wanted to ensure that at least 500 families benefited from this first “38126 COVID-19 Response Project” event. Mission accomplished.

“We will keep working to address the needs of 38126,” said Bright. “There will be no big fundraiser this year, but we will continue doing the work. As our public and private partners see what a great need there is, we just believe they will step up to do their part. I believe God will make sure we have everything we need.”

Other partners who contributed to Friday’s outreach effort included Mid-South Food Bank, Shelby County Schools, Bare Needs Diaper Bank, Urban Strategies, RISE Foundation, SCORE South City, Emmanuel Center and First Baptist Church-Lauderdale.

Spearheaded by WFGM, the relief effort benefitted from many helping hands. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

WFGM seeks to encourage philanthropy and foster opportunities for leadership among women and to support initiatives that uplift women and children to reach their full potential, said Bright.

One recipient loaded down with food and supplies captured the spirit of the event:

“Y’all just don’t know what this means to us, to help us feed our children,” she said. “It’s good, so good having something like this. It’s a true blessing, and we thank y’all so much. We thank God.”