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EXCLUSIVE: A Change In Government Assistance Pick-Up Meant Hours In The Sun For Many Mid-Southerners

MILLINGTON, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - Hundreds of low-income elderly and disabled Memphis and Shelby County residents receiving government assistance stood in the hot sun for more than three hours in Millington Thursday to get their monthly bag of food.

It happened at Millington Church of Christ, not their usual location.

About 6,000 people in Shelby County receive what's called the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. The program provides food to low-income elderly and disabled residents.

There have always been several locations throughout Memphis and Shelby County where people can conveniently go and pick up food each month. Residents say they got a notice that five locations were combined into one, so they had to go to Millington to get their goods.

"It's not right. It's really not right!" exclaimed Trudy Yarbrough. "People were on crutches and everything. These are disabled people."

"It's terrible. Look you've people with the little oxygen tanks. You got people on walkers. People say they haven't had their medication,” said Carolyn Cothon.

Hundreds of elderly and disabled residents receiving government assistance stood in the heat for hours waiting to get a bag of food containing canned goods, cereal, and dried pasta.

"It used to be at five different locations, but under Ben Carson and the new HUD directive they combined all five locations out to Millington,” said Hunter Demster with the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens.

Demster says not only were hundreds of people waiting at one location, the food truck was more than three hours late.

"It was supposed to be here at 8:30 and the truck didn't arrive here until 11 o'clock. There were 200-300 people waiting inside the church and out in the sun for hours,” said Demster.

Demster says the program serves elderly and disabled citizens, but this set up doesn't work.

"Walk a football field inside the church, wait in there to get a number to walk to the other side of the parking lot to use your produce voucher, and then walk a football field and a half to this truck over here to get one bag of commodities,” said Demster. "It’s not worth saving a few dollars to put hundreds of people through this hell."

Demster says it's too hot for anybody to be in the heat, especially those who are older or have disabilities.

"I'll never be ok with treating people like this. We have the resources and we are smart enough to figure this program out,” said Demster.

Participants of the food assistance program say the other locations were convenient and easy to get in and out quickly.

"These are older people. Most of ‘em don't even drive. And then they put ‘em way out here in Millington. You can't get out here!" said Yarbrough.

"They need to have a meeting and get this spread out. I think a lot of people have come from the inner city,” said Cothon.

The Shelby County Health Department runs the program. The director sent us this statement:

“The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is a federal program that serves individuals over 60 years of age. Today we were scheduled at the Baker Community Center in Millington for CSFP and the CSFP farmer’s market.  Services were to begin at 9:00.  The truck carrying the commodities was unexpectedly delayed, arriving around 10:30.  Once the truck arrived approximately 350 customers were served throughout the day.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our customers.”

"We are already evaluating what worked and what we can do differently. You may recall that we are also working on a new, permanent location. Approval was given recently by the County Commission." 


When we asked why five locations were combined in to one, this was the response: “It was an attempt to make it more convenient for customers. “


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