It takes a lot of different organizations and people to fight hunger in our world.
Community involvement from all different clubs and organizations has helped the Clarksdale Care Station not only overcome adversity in recent years, but also grow and feed a bigger part of the local population.
The Clarksdale Care Station has been around since 1987 and moved to its current location on John Lee Hooker Lane in 1998. Stan Cohen donated the land, people made donations to construct the building and carpenters and bricklayers in the community did the work.
The original mission was originally to have a soup kitchen and feed the homeless. Today, more than 200 volunteers come together every month to help with different programs including Meals on Wheels, the mobile food pantry and feeding the homeless and lower income segment of the Coahoma County population.
Locals have taken notice of the Care Station’s contributions to the community and voted it the best civic organization for the 2020 Clarksdale Press Register Readers Choice.
“To me, the thing that I’ve noticed has happened over the last few years and is the whole community has gotten involved,” said Care Station board president Charlie Estess. “And we’ve got so many churches that give on a monthly basis. This is small churches and big churches. There are churches that have maybe 35 members and they’re giving $100 a month to help feed people.”
Estess said at least 10 to 12 churches make monthly donations including Clarksdale Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, St. George’s Episcopal Church and Baptist and Catholic churches. Civic organizations such as the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs have donated to the Care Station for years. Law firms, banks and other businesses have allowed employees to take time off during the workday and deliver food for the Meals on Wheels program.
“Everybody feels like they’re a part of it,” Estess said. “The beauty of the Care Station is that it’s not owned by anybody.”
He smiled as he talked about the people and organizations who have come alongside the Care Station.
“We’ve gotten partnerships, relationships built over the last few years where everybody sees the importance of the ministry and the mission and what it’s trying to do.”
The group effort of those partnerships has helped the Care Station not only beat the obstacles, but also exceed expectations.
One example came when Kroger closed its grocery store in Clarksdale in early 2018. The city of Clarksdale announced a Piggly Wiggly will be opening in the future, but as of now, no grocery store has replaced Kroger.
Kroger donated perishable foods that cannot be left on the shelf for more than a few days to be used for hot meals when individuals eat at the Care Station during the week. Walmart stepped in and started donating those foods.
“When we lost Kroger, we were getting about 50,000-pounds of food a year from them,” Estess said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do when we lost that food.”
But as always the community stepped up and found a solution.
“Walmart stepped in and has been giving us food just about ever since,” Estess explained. “We get anywhere from 3,000- to 4,000- pounds a month from Walmart.”
The Care Station also put together fish fries to help raise money and fill some of the void Kroger left.
Estess also reflected on when the Care Station stopped getting a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.
“We look at it as sort of a God thing, because several years ago we had a FEMA grant,” Estess said. “The FEMA grant was about $50,000 a year. We went from having $50,000 in the bank to zero dollars. We were sitting there wondering how in the world we were ever going to replace the money.
“Well, we let the community know and the newspaper helped us get the word out,” he said. “Once the word got out in the community that we lost $50,000, that year, we got more money given by the community than we lost from FEMA. People reached into their pocket books to make sure the Care Station carried on.”
Estess reflected on two scenarios in the past month where members of the community unexpectedly stepped up and helped the Care Station provide services.
One was last week with the monthly mobile food pantry program where Mid-South Food Bank from Memphis donates groceries for the Care Station to distribute to residents of Coahoma County.
With the COVID-19 causing economic difficulties for many, the Care Station asked for enough groceries to feed 400 Coahoma County families last week. Usually, there are enough groceries to feed 300 families
When Care Station representatives arrived at the Coahoma County Expo Center to distribute the meals, another cause was taking place at the same time. The Magdovitz family purchased meals from the Mid-South Food Bank for anyone who arrived.
The causes teamed up and everyone in need went through one line.
As a result, Estess reported over 600 families were fed in a matter of three hours.
“The Magdovitz family had a foundation and they provided some funds where they bought food,” he said. “We keep having these things we don’t expect. All of the sudden you’re able to feed twice as many people as we’ve ever fed. We had more volunteers. We didn’t even know we were going to have these volunteers until yesterday (Tuesday, April 21) morning.
“It was just an amazing thing that happened and we had all the food we needed. We were able to put food in the very last car.”
Local musician Steve Kolbus has also stepped up and helped the Care Station raise money. He recently released the Steve Kolbus & the Clarksdale Blues Revue band’s remixed and remastered CD “Boom, Boom, Boom.” It was released during the band’s 10-year anniversary at the Ground Zero Blues Club.
Twenty-five percent of the CD sales go toward the Care Station. The CD costs $20.
Kolbus was homeless at one time ate meals at the Care Station.
“The story with Steve was very unique,” Estess said. “He was actually coming to the Care Station. And, then, all of the sudden one day, out of the blue, we get a phone call and he has a band that sells CDs.”
Estess said several individuals have shown similar appreciation through the years.
“They make sure we understand that the reason they’re doing it is because of just the fact that they had a meal or two at an earlier time in life,” he said. “There’s just lots of stories like that you don’t expect. They come to us and they want to make sure we understand how much that meant to them being successful today.”
Estess acknowledged citizens will have a greater need for the Care Station in the near future, but that should be not a problem.
“There’s no doubt that there is plenty of need in Coahoma County,” he said. “With the uncertainty that we have, with economics and the way things are going, one will certainly expect that’s going to increase. So the more agencies and the more churches and the more individuals that we have involved, it’s going to make it that much more possible.”
Estess said the Care Station has building a relationship with the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi in Clarksdale, which could help provide some needed funds.
The Meals on Wheels program will allow the Care Station to continue reaching more residents.
“From our standpoint, the mission that we have with the Meals on Wheels is designed to help the sick and shut-in, so it’s a homebound individual,” Estess said.
Estess has been involved with the Care Station almost 16 years. A year after Estess became a board member, he took over as board president from Jerry Hudson.
Hudson needed to put more effort into his job and Estess, who was the county agent, had retired. He first connected with the Care Station when he met one of its founders, the late Elaine Bobo.
Estess and Bobo both attended Clarksdale Methodist Church.
“Back years ago, when I was still working, we had a catfish catering on the side, so we started helping the Care Station raise money every year. We’d have a fish fry. And so, for several years, before I got really involved with the Care Station, we just did that as our gift to the Care Station to help them raise money. The relationship built like that in the beginning to help raise money for the Care Station through fish fries.”