Before volunteers offer food, clothes and other provisions to visitors to the Brinkley Heights Ministry Center, they get to know who they are helping.
“We meet one on one for counseling before they get supplies. This is intentional and builds relationships, and that helps us help them,” said volunteer Tom Stephenson.
Director Sam Wilson said the pantry feeds an average of 45 families weekly. Started and operated through Brinkley Heights Baptist Church in North Memphis, it is open three times a week, assists people from all over the area and no new visitor is ever turned away. It’s one of almost 300 Mid-South Food Bank Partner Agencies, and works cooperatively with both MIFA and the Dept. of Human Services.
Started about 30 years ago, its location has moved into half a dozen buildings before its present one, a remodeled house. About 75 volunteers rotate to help with specific roles – including sorting its clothes closet. They derive from multiple churches in both urban and suburban Memphis that support the ministry with man-power and both financial and food donations.
“Our pantry is set up to help people in crisis” with a three-day supply of food, Wilson said. While about 25 percent of its clients are senior citizens, the rest are on fixed income due to disability or are unemployed. Some have encountered an unexpected hardship like a medical crisis.
“The food is a big deal, but we ensure that people we help receive encouragement; that they have accountability; and have other needed resources,” Wilson said.
He said that far too often clients are missing spiritual comfort, and being able to pray with them is usually emotional, always influential.
“Relationships are what helps people in need move forward from setbacks. It’s a tough world,” he said. “If our pantry offered food through a hole in the door, we would not being doing this.”
For younger, able individuals needing help, Wilson said volunteers follow up, if and when they return to the pantry, with a checklist of pursued employment opportunities. This prodding helps clients to not give up on becoming independent.
Teresa Irving, 66, has been walking to the pantry to get help for many years. She’s a freelance sketch artist, a diabetic and has Parkinson disease. She only comes to get food as she needs it, she said, and gives back volunteering in the clothes closet.
“The food helps a lot, especially after the bills I have to pay. I don’t come unless I need it,” she said.
Ken Hardin, who oversees the pantry, said his commitment to help feed people increased after attending a workshop in 1996. A guest speaker from another church with a pantry, he recalls, said that, “Except for the grace of God it could be you needing help.”
“Those words have never left me and I think about them regularly,” Hardin said.