Neighbors worry for struggling Binghampton residents after community center, café closes

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A neighborhood center that doubles as a café and a safe haven for a Memphis neighborhood will close its doors.

Caritas Village initially shut down because of the pandemic, and it will now stay closed for a while to regroup and reorganize.

Caritas Community Center and Café, a staple in Binghamton, closed in April amidst COVID-19 concerns, but the board of directors for the nonprofit center decided to keep it closed to restructure operations.

“The financial lift of operating a restaurant is tough even in normal times, so we had to face honestly that running a café in the aftermath of a pandemic would add an additional drag on our financial stability,” Caritas board member Marvin Stockwell said.

Caritas served mostly as a restaurant with locally farm-grown items on the menu. A Pay It Forward program. allowed paying customers to donate meals to those in Binghamton who needed the meals.

Emmy Gazaway lives in the neighborhood and volunteered in the café.

“Since we’ve closed for COVID, I’ve had several of our regulars stop by and say hi and ask me if I had left overs or any meals that I can give them because they’ve been hungry and haven’t been able to feed themselves,” Gazaway said.

“Are there some services that we wish we could offer, that we won’t be able to? Yes,” Stockwell said.

Stockwell said future plans for caritas are still in the works, but one idea calls for converting the café to a community kitchen.

“We saw a lot of food entrepreneurs and kind of operating out of their house, selling tamales to people walking to and from church, and we thought maybe what we could do is reimagine our kitchen space as a commercial kitchen made available affordably to food entrepreneurs,” Stockwell said.

Whatever the plans, it won’t happen until after summer. Gazaway said she’s worried that will hurt a lot of people.

“A lot of people are going to go really hungry if we don’t continue our program to feed his neighborhood,” she said.

Gazaway and some others are circulating a petition to convince the board to reopen Caritas sooner.

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