Four local nonprofits to receive Award of Excellence from Gov. Lee

Christin Yates, Special to the Daily Memphian

From distributing meals to helping students with virtual learning, four nonprofits in the Mid-South are receiving an Award of Excellence from Gov. Bill Lee for their contributions to the community.

Christ Community Health Services, the Mid-South Food Bank, Las Americas and MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope) will receive the awards Tuesday, Dec. 8, from representatives of the governor’s office.

When Christ Community heard about the first COVID-19 case in Shelby County in the spring, it quickly deployed its emergency management protocols related to a pandemic.

“I don’t think anyone had anything in place related to COVID-19,” Shantelle Leatherwood, CEO of Christ Community Health Services, said. “However, my team quickly gathered, and we quickly developed plans and quickly went into action.”

Leatherwood said her team convinced her to develop the first community testing site for COVID-19. As of Dec. 7, Christ Community has tested more than 35,000 individuals and diagnosed more than 5,700 cases of COVID-19.

It also partnered with other local and state government entities to provide surge testing.

“We’ve stepped up to the call to serve during this pandemic,” Leatherwood said. “That’s really the reason we received the award (from Gov. Lee). Of course, for us, you don’t enter into a pandemic and rise to the occasion for the recognition. You do it to serve and help the community. We’ve been happy to serve.”

While Christ Community is providing access to COVID-19 testing, the Mid-South Food Bank is ensuring the hungry are fed.

The Mid-South Food Bank normally distributes about 1.5 million pounds of food per month to its partners. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has averaged about 5.5 million pounds of food per month.

Cathy Pope, president and CEO of the Food Bank, said the need has been “tremendous.”

“We have seen such an increase in need, and we have done that by way of mobile distributions. We mapped out a service area and looked at areas not being served,” Pope said.

The Mid-South Food Bank went from serving 60 mobile pantries per month on average to about 200 per month. The organization has also ramped up its staff, hiring warehouse workers and temporary drivers to move the millions of pounds of food per month.

Pope said receiving the Award of Excellence “means everything” to the organization.

“I feel like we’ve been recognized for our commitment to feeding people who are hungry during general times, but to set us apart and recognize the work the food bank has done and particularly the impact we’ve had on our community during the COVID-19 crisis, means so much to all of us to be recognized for the work that we’re doing,” she said.

The pandemic has caused many schools to resort to virtual learning, which has been difficult for many Latino students. Greg Diaz started Las Americas to help Latino students who, like himself, struggle with school.

Through nine programs, Las Americas provides homework help, character building, in-school tutoring and more. One of the most critical programs throughout the pandemic has been its two virtual hubs that offer students assistance with virtual learning.

“We are working harder right now with less resources because we have turned our sites into virtual hubs,” Diaz said. “Now the parents bring their kids and drop them off at 7:30 in the morning, and they don’t get picked up until 4 p.m. We have staff that are overseeing that and making sure that they get connected and they understand what the teacher is saying. They help the students throughout the whole day.”

The virtual hubs are for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“I feel very proud of all the people that make Las Americas. We have a large staff, and a small army of volunteers. We’re just very proud of the work that everybody has put in to making Las Americas what it is today,” he said.

In addition to the pandemic, 2020 has brought race relations to the national forefront. MICAH has been involved in advocating for police reform and better race relations, this year taking a leadership role during the protests in Memphis.

More than 200 people attended a June gathering organized by MICAH to encourage Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration to support lasting changes that can reverse systemic racism that has existed for decades.

“We’re asking for a platform where everybody can get the mayor’s attention — his undivided attention — and listen so that we can work together to bring about equity in this city,” Rev. Stacy Spencer, president of MICAH, said during a June demonstration outside City Hall.

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