HomeNewsPeople of the Year: Jackson Madison County Humanitarian Relief Volunteers

People of the Year: Jackson Madison County Humanitarian Relief Volunteers

A lot of people in Jackson and Madison County need help throughout the year.

A number of non-profit organizations in the area do their best to fill the gaps between those who need help and the resources they’re in need of.

But more people than the staff and board members of a few non-profits are needed to make sure everyone in the county is taken care of, particularly in times like last week when an arctic blast blew into the area, forcing the homeless community of Jackson to sometimes make a choice between trying to find shelter or risk freezing to death in single-digit temperatures overnight.

The non-profits like Tennessee Homeless Solutions, Salvation Army, RIFA, United Way of West Tennessee and Area Relief Ministries do what they can do, but sometimes they’re limited by resources, manpower and regulations for their operations in helping others.

That’s where grassroot efforts by people who want to do what they can to make sure everyone is taken care of become crucial. And that’s why Jackson Madison County Humanitarian Relief Volunteers have been selected collectively as inaugural People of the Year by The Jackson Post.

The organization came together as a group on Facebook started by Martha Priddy early in the COVID-19 pandemic where she was trying to help different members of the local homeless community with a hot meal or bedding or anything else they needed. The page started as a way to organize people that wanted to help her.

Now as 2022 comes to an end, the group has more than 2,000 members, many of which were mobilized last week in providing food, toiletries, warm clothes, tents or bedding for those who needed it last week when the arctic blast made its way into Tennessee.

Amanda Graves is one of the more recent additions to the group, and she’s one that stepped in to get a lot done last week.

Graves has lived in Jackson for about six months, but she had no problem trying to meet needs this week and connecting those in Jackson without shelter and a regular supply of food to both resources.

On the evening of Dec. 23, she was in the kitchen at Salvation Army on Allen Street in Jackson coordinating food production to deliver to members of the local homeless population who were being housed in hotels.

Salvation Army Lieutenant Mark Cancia was on hand to help in the coordination.

“Tennessee Homeless Solutions took care of putting people who are houseless under a roof, and we’ve had a group of concerned citizens who care enough to do what they can to help get those people fed,” Cancia said.

On Thursday evening as the arctic blast moved into the area, temperatures dropped into the single digits and even were recorded briefly below 0 degrees Fahrenheit Friday morning.

But this week’s efforts were a little more special to Graves.

“Nearly all of my family members’ birthdays are in December, and my mother’s birthday is in December,” Graves said. “I’ve a son whose birthday would’ve been today (Dec. 23) and another whose birthday would’ve been Dec. 15.

“I’ve got two more kids who are still here with me that are working right now but will be here helping when they get off work.”

Graves said December is a month to celebrate the birth of Jesus by doing what Jesus calls us to do – be a light and help those who can’t help themselves and then in January, those in her family who had birthdays get celebrated.

“Last night late (Dec. 22), we were knocking on doors at hotels letting them know food was available at the hotel lobby for them,” Graves said. “And you never know what is going on with someone who doesn’t have a home.

“If there’s an addiction they’re dealing with, they need to eat to keep their body satisfied as much as possible because when you’re hungry, any other craving you have – an addiction – just becomes that much more serious. So keeping these people fed in a way helps their addiction situation for the short term.”

As Priddy and other volunteers were getting food to people early in the evening, Graves and a few other volunteers were in the kitchen preparing more food. Also while the cooking was going on, Graves and Cancia were planning a weekend of meals for the people.

“This will get us through the cold snap hopefully,” Cancia said when asked why they were planning through Monday. “So getting on the markerboard like this helps us evaluate our needs and what we have on hand and see what we need to fill any gaps the people have to get them through Christmas and Monday.”

Because frigid temperatures were set to linger on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning, Tennessee Homeless Solutions was able to garner enough funding to get more hotel rooms rented for Monday and Tuesday nights, which meant Priddy, Graves and the rest of the group were tasked with coordinating a few more meals.

“We’ve got a lot of people who want to help, but it’s a matter of getting everything together to make sure everyone is taken care of,” Graves said. “So a church may donate a few or a few dozen pizzas, and someone else may make a big pot of chili or spaghetti, and someone else may go get a bunch of rolls or something else.

“Martha and a group of probably a half-dozen other women do a great job of getting that coordinated, and we all do this as volunteers. Martha has been doing this for however long she’s been doing this volunteering her time and her own resources to help others. That’s really someone answering the call we’re all given to be kind to others and help those who can’t help themselves.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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