February is Black History Month in the United States. The national observance pays tribute to people and events that have helped to shape African American history. In April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, the preeminent leader of the country's civil rights movement, was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he worked to eliminate poverty in the city. After his death, community leaders formed a group to address the lingering economic inequities in the city.
Bill and Lee McWaters are on the front-line of helping to improve the lives of thousands of people in Memphis, Tennessee. They are volunteers with MIFA, the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association. It is one of the city's largest community service organizations with thousands of volunteers. The group makes daily deliveries of hot meals to some 2,400 homebound senior citizens.
Warren Franklin, 87, is one of them.
"All of them that come to bring me food they always ask me, 'Mr. Franklin can I help you, or is there anything I need to do?' And I appreciate that, you know," he said.
Lee McWaters says he and his dad are gratified they have the time to help people.
"Dad and I only spend a couple hours a week doing this and it is no sweat for us. But it means the world to them to be able to get a hot meal," he said.
MIFA has a long history of lending a helping hand. Community leaders formed the organization five months after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis in April 1968.
When Dr. King came to Memphis he was not only concerned about the racial harmony but about the level of poverty. Forty-two years after his death, Memphis still struggles with that problem. One in four people living in this city live below the poverty level.
In addition to providing hot meals to the elderly, MIFA also offers financial, legal and housing assistance to the poor in Memphis. Executive Director Margaret Craddock explains what motivates MIFA's volunteers.
"It is a calling for so many people. It gives the volunteers a way to put their faith into action and to serve just as Dr. King would have wanted them to," she said. "You know we will help you. You have a loss of income you haven't been getting paid."
Today, MIFA has nine different programs to help seniors and families in crisis. Tamaki Dale lost her job in August and is seeking financial assistance.
"I appreciate it. Without them [MIFA] a lot of us would be homeless," Dale said.
In the past year, MIFA has paid out nearly a million dollars to help people with their bills.
"We use to see single people coming in for assistance, a mother with her children. But now we are seeing families, more of the working poor, a husband and wives coming in," said Phyllis Phillips, the group's emergency services director.
Executive Director Craddock says MIFA is looking for new ways to help people.
"There are so many efforts that are going into this fight. So it is a all hands on deck effort. We know that some things are improving. It's just not as rapidly as we would like but we are all trying," she said.
The people at MIFA say they will continue to build upon Martin Luther King's legacy of helping people who need it the most, while doing their part to solve the city's lingering economic and social inequities.