North Memphis

When COVID-19 relief didn't come, Douglass residents stepped up for their own

There's been a flood of relief efforts in response to Covid-19, but are resources getting to the Memphis neighborhoods that need them the most?

Residents from the Douglass community in North Memphis said that for several weeks, resources like food banks and testing sites just weren’t coming to them.

Kathy Yancey-Temple runs The Time is Now Douglass Community Development Corporation. She said Douglass is often overlooked because it is a small community, and isolated community. It's boundaries include railroad lines and the Wolf River, and it has few major thoroughfares.

“Resources not getting to Douglass is not a pandemic problem. This has always been our problem,” Yancey-Temple said. “ We’re so small, people often just lump us in with another neighborhood like Hollywood, but it never seems to trickle down this way.”

With layoffs, furloughs or jobs on hold, residents in Douglass say they need close access to resources more than ever. But Yancey-Temple said Douglass often has to mobilize on its own.

In March, she reached out to the Mid-South Food Bank and a neighborhood church, St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, to partner on biweekly mobile food banks in Douglass beginning April 16. It was the first mobile food pantry in Douglass during the pandemic.

YMCA and Shelby County Schools have distributed food at Douglass Community Center but those meals are primarily for children 18 and under. Mobile food banks allow residents of any age to receive two weeks worth of food.

The next mobile food bank is scheduled for May 23 at 3131 Pope Street.

“Even if [relief efforts] don’t want to come to Douglass, we’re going to come to you and tell you to bring it to us,” said Yancey-Temple.
 

WHO NEEDS IT MOST

Douglass sits just east of Hyde Park and Hollywood and includes the Douglass, Bungalow, and Crump subdivisions. Its boundaries aren't set in stone, but Jackson Avenue, Warford Street, and the Wolf River are often used.

William Rush-Plummer was a freed slave who was given the land after his emancipation. He named it after well-known abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It's a historically black community and was the first in Memphis to host a Juneteeth celebration. 

Today, Memphis has the second highest poverty and child poverty rate for large cities in the country. Economic disinvestment is most concentrated in North and South Memphis.

There's only one full-sized grocery story in the whole of North Memphis—a Save-A-Lot on Jackson—but it isn’t within walking distance for most residents and many don't have cars. Most of the closest COVID-19 testing, food, and supply distribution sites are in areas adjacent to North Memphis like Uptown, Binghampton, Frayser, and The Heights.

In Douglass, there is one bus line on Jackson Avenue and one that runs along Chelsea Avenue. Both are east-west and now operate only on Sundays due to the pandemic.

“Folks walk up to Hollywood [bus stops] all the time, but you can’t carry back 60 pounds of groceries,” said Yancey-Temple.
The Time is Now Douglass Community Development Corporation and local partners hosted a mobile food pantry in the Douglass neighborhood on April 16th. It was the first mobile pantry held in Douglass since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Shelby County. (Submitted)

A BELOVED COMMUNITY

At the partners' April 30 distribution, cars wrapped around Mount Olive Street down to the church building on Pope Street. Families without cars came on foot to carry home groceries together.

Police officers helped monitor traffic and hopped in line in their squad cars to deliver groceries to the homes of elderly residents.

Gospel music blasted from speakers. Volunteers joked and waved with residents as they packed their cars with loads of sweet potatoes, chicken wings, cabbages, and canned goods.

“There is a lot of love in the Douglass community,” said volunteer Johnnie Hatten,

Hatten lives in area and is a North Memphis organizer for the Center for Transforming Communities. She said Douglass has always been family-oriented.

“There are a lot of hidden treasures in Douglass. There are people in the community that are doing the work but not really getting the recognition,” Hatten said.

Time Is Now Douglass is just one of the neighborhood organizations answering the call to action.

Douglass High School got together to passed out hot dogs and learning packets to families in Douglass Park. The Douglass Community Center has distributed free books and meals to students and the nonprofit Douglass Cornerstone has distributed school supplies.

The community stays connected through social media, door-to-door canvassing, and word of mouth. Yancey-Temple said Douglass is working together like always to ensure there are no neighbors in need.

“We’re just trying to do what we can with what we have during this unprecedented time,” she said.

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Find more resources and ways to help in English and Spanish in our Memphis Area COVID-19 Resource Guide.

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Read more articles by Ashley Davis.

Ashley Foxx Davis is an author, educator, artist and Memphis native. She's been featured in Glamour, Ebony, and Essence magazines; Blackenterprise.com; TheRoot.com; and BET.com. Find her at kifanipress.com.
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