For over 20 years every Tuesday, 82-year-old Lee James fills grocery sacks with essential food items for hungry families.
“I enjoy it. I’m retired and it’s a way to give back to the community,” he said about volunteering.
The food pantry at Greenwood C.M.E. in inner city Memphis helps feed about 10 different households every week one week’s worth of food. Many clients are senior citizens, but some are single parents referred to the pantry by MIFA.
Raised in Helena, Ark., Lee says he has never tired of stocking the pantry closet - he both orders and picks up the food from Mid-South Food Bank in the back of his pickup truck. Nor does he permit the pantry to become unorganized or void of a balance of items.
On some occasions, like holidays, he asks the church’s finance board for funds to get frozen meat or other items from the grocery store, citing over 100 hens he bought recently as part of a distribution.
There are too many distinctive memories of people, as well as faces, Lee remembers helping. But one thing does stand apart: clients’ emotions.
“I’ve seen people come in to pick up food and sit down and cry because they were so thankful, so desperate,” he said. “Sometimes other people can’t understand why they can’t get something not available.”
Encountering both the grateful and the less grateful clients, he said, has taught him to be resolved.
“You can’t let emotions affect you from who you are and what you want to do to help,” he said.
On a recent distribution, James and his lone assistant, Wanda Shaw, wheeled a basket of food for Ralph Barnes and his brother Ben Vinton, two more strangers that Lee would help that day.
“It’s hard to get people to volunteer. They say they will help, but committing can be tough,” Lee said.
When asked the secret to his dedication, he replied: “I never schedule anything on a Tuesday. Never.”