Hope House, Concord Academy, Black clergy and transplant awareness groups receive Gannett grants

Mark Russell
Memphis Commercial Appeal
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South Memphis Farmers Market aims to make quality produce affordable.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the needs in Shelby County multiplied. And groups like the Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis were serving ever more community members.

To meet those needs into the future, the Rev. J. Lawrence Turner, founder and president of the Black Clergy Collaborative, wants to focus on food insecurity in areas of Memphis classified as food deserts. 

Rev. J. Lawrence Turner

With a $10,000 grant from the Gannett Foundation’s A Community Thrives initiative, the Black Clergy Collaborative, a 40-member group of pastors and other church leaders focused on civic engagement, economic empowerment and criminal justice reform, will start working on developing community gardens that can supply neighborhood farmers markets.

The Black Clergy organization is one of three recipients of $10,000 grants in Shelby County. The other two are Hope House Day Care Center and the National Foundation for Transplants. Concord Academy, which specializes in teaching students with disabilities or learning differences, received $2,500. The four organizations received the funding as part of a grantmaking and crowdfunding initiative sponsored by USA TODAY’s parent company, Gannett. All grant recipients raised money through crowdfunding before receiving a grant.

"We want to start community gardens in areas that are food deserts," said Turner, who is senior pastor of Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church. "And distribute the food through farmers markets and explore the possibility of community-owned grocery stores." He said the concept for the Memphis program is modeled after Baltimore's Black Church Food Insecurity Network program. 

A customer poses for a photo at the 2020 Whitehaven Farmers Market.  This neighborhood market is hosted by Methodist South Hospital.

"The intent is to grow our own fruits ad vegetables and then to partner with African American farmers to sell their goods," Turner said. "Black farmers need platforms to sell and we need to bring fresh food to communities that don't have much, if any, now." 

Since 2017, A Community Thrives has distributed $17 million in grants and donations to community-based organizations. 

“Now in its fifth year, A Community Thrives awards grants to many significant causes helping to improve lives.  Each of our grant winners is making a positive impact, and we are proud to support organizations that share our purpose," Gannett CEO Mike Reed said. 

For Kristin Burgoyne, executive director of $25,000 grantee Refugee Connect, the grant will mean more families affected by resettlement will be supported through their transition to the U.S.

Refugee Connect started a Community Navigation Program, hiring cultural leaders in refugee and immigrant communities to conduct outreach with families, connect them to resources and make sure they know how to navigate systems — educational, financial, health care and other systems.

More:Gannett Foundation relaunches multi-million dollar crowdfunding and grant program

“I’ve been doing this work for about 13 years now, working with refugees and immigrants in different cities, and the common thing that I would say to any community where you have a significant refugee or immigrant population, is the best thing that you can do to show your support for those communities is to be welcoming,” Burgoyne said.

Refugee Connect, based in Cincinnati and operating in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky, hopes to support about 50 additional families using the grant money. Those families will benefit from having assistance in their own languages from someone who has experienced resettlement or migration in the past.

The organization plans to help support families who are evacuees evacuated from Afghanistan after the United States withdrew from the country, leaving many vulnerable when the Taliban seized control. Partnering with resettlement organizations in northern Kentucky, Refugee Connect assembles welcome teams to help Afghans navigate finding jobs, health care providers and other resources by working with churches and mosques.

“Now we're able to use this funding to really support that people power, because of this grant,” Burgoyne said. “It makes a difference between a family just surviving and a family thriving.” 

According to the Gannett Foundation, other A Community Thrives grant recipients include:

In Brunswick, Georgia, Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority will receive $100,000 to help enable a Head Start program and provide space for local organizations to serve local community members.

In Indianapolis, the The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library will receive $50,000 to support its free speech programming.

In Wilmington, Delaware, Waggies will receive $25,000 to go toward opening an additional kitchen that employs intellectually disabled adults baking dog treats.

Other nonprofit organizations will receive community operating grants that start at $2,500, chosen by leaders across Gannett's USA TODAY Network of more than 250 news sites in 46 states. Organizations that focus on building up historically under-resourced and underserved groups will especially be considered.

"Across the country, A Community Thrives grants link USA TODAY Network brands to the communities in which we operate and beyond," said Sue Madden, director of the Gannett Foundation. "Our reporters work every day to empower communities to thrive, and this program helps fulfill that core purpose."

For the full list of grantees, go to www.gannettfoundation.org/act.

Jeannine Santucci of USA TODAY contributed to this report.

Mark Russell is executive editor of The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at [email protected], 901/288-4509. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MarkRussell44

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