by Kesi Stribling, ATS Editor
According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), more than 565,000 people were homeless in the U.S. in 2019. This year’s Pandemic has only exacerbated those numbers. As stalwart companies and local businesses close, people have lost jobs, housing, and economic stability.
Organizations around the country and their volunteers have stepped up to provide meals for the homeless during the holiday season. For the last five years, Stephon Smallwood and his wife, Catina, have fed the homeless at the Memphis Cook Convention Center on Thanksgiving Day. Due to COVID-19, plans were cancelled, but the Smallwood family wanted to do something to make an impact.
The answer was Operation Feed. An ambitious effort hosted by the Building Blocks Mentoring Program, a nonprofit organization in Memphis, TN that Mr. Smallwood founded more than a decade ago, the organization planned an aggressive program to feed the homeless in three cities on the same day, and at the same time. Held on Sunday, November 22, volunteers provided meals for almost 1,000 people in Nashville, Memphis, and Washington, DC combined.
Currently, there are just under 7,500 homeless adults in Tennessee and more than 6,500 in the District of Columbia, according to USICH. “We wanted to reach more people at one time to make a bigger impact,” Mr. Smallwood said of the decision to host three concurrent programs in different cities. The decision to expand the program beyond Tennessee was personal. Originally from Washington, DC, before relocating as a youth to Memphis, he wanted to give back to his birthplace.
Building Blocks Mentoring Program partnered with T-Mobile to accomplish the goal of feeding and providing essential items to the homeless in each city. “(T-Mobile) saw the vision” of Operation Feed and were “nothing but extraordinary in their support,” according to Mr. Smallwood. T-Mobile deployed resources, including their employees who volunteered during the event, and provided the t-shirts, masks for volunteers, and bags so that that food and other items could be given to the homeless safely.
To manage the logistics involved, each city’s Coordinator planned the layout, meal preparation and distribution, volunteer preparation, and product distribution. In addition to Stephon Smallwood, who managed operations and logistics in Memphis, Leland Hardin managed activities for Nashville, TN, and Tierre Wright in Washington, DC.
In addition to food and beverages, Operation Feed provided toiletries, feminine hygiene products, and hand sanitizer to the homeless.
When reflecting on the impact of providing meals and essentials to homeless men and women during the Thanksgiving season, Stephon Smallwood remarked, “It’s about what we can do to be of assistance to others.”
For more information about Building Blocks Mentoring Program, or to volunteer for upcoming programs, visit www.bbmprogram.com.
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