“I came out because I need food.”
Joann Biggs’ sobering observation was shared as hundreds of local family members, with mounting food needs associated with the novel coronavirus, lined up in their cars to receive free bags of food in Frayser on Friday.
Pursuit of God Church – in collaboration with the Mid-South Food Bank – distributed 300-plus bags filled with fruit, vegetables and produce to local residents. The food giveaway started moments before Shelby County Schools announced the suspension of its planned food distribution to students.
The halt in services was ordered after a school nutritionist tested positive for COVID-19. The food distribution services were set to start Monday, with plans to prepare more than 15,000 meals daily for students who usually receive free or reduced lunches.
“We are deeply saddened by this development,” SCS Supt. Dr. Joris Ray said during a press conference Friday. “Nevertheless, Memphis and Shelby County, we cannot allow our children to go hungry.”
Families waited in line for hours to receive the food help at Pursuit of God.
“When I heard about this event, I knew I had to tell my neighbors – the ones with a lot of kids to take care of – or some who can’t work,” Biggs said. “I need it, but I also know a lot of them need it even more.”
The local COVID-19 response now includes emergency directives restricting restaurants to take-out orders only and forcing bars and gyms to close until further notice. Mayor Jim Strickland that has requested that churches stay closed in a further effort to halt community transmission. The count of confirmed cases was put at 42 during Saturday’s public health briefing.
Pastor Ricky Floyd, who spearheaded the food distribution and plans to continue with church services – taking precautions – on Sunday, spoke to a church’s role.
“I believe the church has an obligation, especially in a crisis, to show who Christ is,” Floyd said. “We are in a time where people are challenged with hope, health issues, financial issues and food issues; and because we are an anchor in this community it is expected for us to do something.”
Since SCS announced the suspension of meal services, Tennessee Department of Education officials have said they are prepared to assist.
“The priority for all Tennessee public schools and districts is to ensure our children are fed – we will come together as a state to support one of our own and the children counting on us,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn wrote in a statement released Friday.
Additionally, a spokesperson with the Mid-South Food Bank has said the organization is looking at ways to assist.
Floyd said the need is greater than SCS’ meal distribution. He and other community members are making plans to host food giveaways bi-monthly, depending on how long the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Help such as that provided at the Pursuit of God food distribution are “a blessing to people in the community,” Biggs said. Still, her assessment of the future is stark.
“This line out here is long and with the way things are going, I know it’s going to get even longer.”