TSU employee’s community outreach helping families cope during pandemic, holidays

Rev. Vernon Ray McGuire, Jr. of Meharry Boulevard Church of God and Antoinette Duke welcome volunteers at the ‘But God’ Dec. 18 food distribution. (photo courtesy of TSU Media Relations)

As thousands of families struggle to put food on the table during the holidays amid the pandemic, a Tennessee State University employee and her private ministry are helping to make sure no one in the community goes hungry.
  Antoinette Hargrove Duke is founder of ‘But God Nette Working For You,’ a ministry of volunteers and community partners started in 2014 to provide food for those in need across Davidson and Rutherford counties in Tennessee. So far this year, the ministry has distributed more than 140,000 pounds of food, or about 55,000 meals to needy families.

“We are able to serve so many families by networking with other agencies,” said Duke, who is interim director of TSU’s Career Development Center. “We partner with organizations within our community to serve families in need of food, clothing and other resources.”

Duke and ‘But God’ (for short) volunteers do not get paid for their work. They get support from local churches and individuals who donate equipment and make financial contributions to the organization. Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee is the group’s biggest partner and provider. Along with Second Harvest, the group distributes food the fourth Friday of every month at locations across Davidson and Rutherford counties.

A recent report in The Washington Post shows that more Americans are going hungry now than at any point during the deadly coronavirus pandemic—a problem created by an economic downturn that has tightened its grip on millions of Americans. In Middle Tennessee, the problem is even steeper, especially among children. Reports show that the number of children at risk of hunger has jumped from one in seven to more than one in five as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Second Harvest.

“And this is why we keep doing what we are doing, to give people hope,” says Duke.

On Friday, with food delivered by Second Harvest, Duke and her group, including nearly 100 volunteers from local organizations, served more than 300 families in a drive-through, contact-free food distribution at Meharry Boulevard Church of God. According to Duke, the church and its pastor, Rev. Vernon Ray McGuire, Jr. have adopted ‘But God’ as a community partner that provides volunteers and financial donation to the group.

Donna Hobbs of Nashville was one of those in line Friday to receive help at the food distribution. After working in the hospitality industry for many years, Hobbs was furloughed from her job in March. Although she landed a new job recently, Hobbs says she is glad she heard about Duke and the ’But God’ ministry and their food distribution “because it is still difficult to make ends meet.”

“I have never done anything like this before. I have never had to reach out,” said Hobbs. “I am the one that’s always volunteering and giving. I am really humbled to be able to see this going on and to be able to get help.”

Rev. McGuire, who was formerly part of a food giveaway program in Franklin, Tennessee, where he pastored another church before relocating to Meharry Boulevard Church of God, says he was drawn to Duke and the ’But God’ ministry because of the group’s mission to meet the needs of others.

“Sister Antoinette [Duke] has been a blessing to the community,” said McGuire. “There are a lot of people in need during this pandemic. We became a partner because we love and agree with what they do and their concern for others.”

Duke says she’s thankful for the many “wonderful” people and organizations that are willing to work day or night to help “touch the many lives we try to reach.”