BOLIVAR COUNTY, Miss. — Desperate for jobs, a community activist and Memphis’ biggest employer join forces. By working together, they found jobs for hundreds of people in an area where jobs are scarce.
Bolivar County, Mississippi is home of the blues, Delta State University and it’s where soy beans and cotton crops rule. But as some residents say, with all that Bolivar has to offer, jobs are not at the top of the list.
“We’ve met so many girls who have three or four children that was struggling to survive and pay bills, struggling to feed their kids and clothe their kids,” community activist Pam Chatman said.
Chatman has seen and heard from single moms struggling to survive on $7.25 an hour. Their struggle to figure out whether to pay the light bill or put food on the table is a monthly decision.
She knew something had to be done.
“I met a young man on social media, and he researched me and we began to start talking and networking. He asked if there was anything he could do to help me. I said, ‘Yes. You could help me by helping my people.’ He said, ‘To do what?’ I said, ‘Give them opportunities for jobs.”
“It turns out, Chatman was chatting with a recruiter from Federal Express. They teamed up to host a series of job fairs in Cleveland, Mississippi, and Chatman says the outcome was nothing sort of amazing.
“We assumed that we would get 50, maybe 100 people, not knowing that at the end of both job fairs we would end up with a thousand plus.”
Job seekers stood in line for hours waiting for a chance to get work that would change their life.
“I always knew that people needed opportunities and jobs. But to see these young people and middle aged people come and stand in the long lines say, ‘I’m not leaving here until I get a job,” Chatman said.
They were seeking jobs that have medical coverage, tuition assistance and salaries that are nearly double what they’re used to seeing in the Mississippi Delta.
“They came and they did all the interviews. They did all the testing in one day, and within three days they had the results. They narrowed it down to the people qualified for the jobs,” Judson Thigpen, with Chamber of Commerence, said.
Thigpen says Cleveland has an unemployment rate around eight percent. He says some people with jobs are only making $7.25 an hour. “Per capita, income is around $17,000 for the county and about $18,000 for the city.”
After only two job fairs, Memphis-based FedEx hired hundreds of people. Desiree Buckner was one of them. She’s a single mother who also works as a service coordinator at a nursing facility. There she brings home $400 every two weeks.
But with a $360 car payment and $125 in car insurance, there is not much left.
FedEx provides three charter buses to transport employees from Cleveland, Mississippi to Memphis every night to work in the hub.
“We have people who drive 45 minutes away just to catch a bus to go to work,” Chatman said.
Buckner says working at FedEx has changed her life. “I love my job. FedEx treats you like family. They treat you like family.”
Chatman says over 300 people have been hired so far, and they are still working to staff more positions.