Remarkable Women: Ruth Rawlings Banks

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Ruth Rawlings Banks

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This week’s Remarkable Women nominee is a woman who unselfishly gives her time, talents and money to help those in need without expecting anything in return.

Ruth Rawlings Banks has consistently demonstrated dedicated service to Memphis and Shelby County, said her niece, Mechele Porter. Porter nominated her aunt for our contest, which is searching for remarkable women in the Mid-South.

Friends and family of Banks say she never expects rewards or recognition, even though she’s the general of an army of people waging war on hunger and poverty in Memphis through her Feed the Needy organization.

“We reach families from all walks and backgrounds,” Banks said. “A lot of our recipients have fallen down on hard times and they’ve lost their jobs. It could be a medical reason. Some of them have got out there and got down on their luck.”

Banks started Feed the Needy when she convinced the company she worked for to adopt a nearby school, and found out some of the students wouldn’t have food to eat during the holiday break. She and her co-workers distributed 50 food boxes that year. 

Twenty-five years later, Feed the Needy put food on the table for more than 5,000 Memphis families.

For Banks, this mission is personal.

“I’m the fourth of 14 siblings and growing up, my mother moved here in 1963, the schools, teachers, and fraternities and sororities would come and bring my mother food, and that was a growing epidemic then,” Banks said.

Feed the Needy doesn’t just help during the holidays — it keeps the shelves stocked at Memphis Police Department’s two food pantries year-round. Officers say hunger is a quality of life issue that drives up crime.

“In this location, we had youth that would come in and get candy and a couple of brothers were getting more than what was allotted,” said Maj. Sandra Green with MPD. “When the question was asked, why they were doing that, that we didn’t want to destroy their appetite for their dinner, they basically said, ‘What dinner? We don’t have any food.'”

The day we visited the police food pantry, they were boxing up food for a man who needed it — food donated by Banks and her Feed the Needy organization.

Banks credits the many volunteers and donors with the program’s success, but it’s her vision, hard work and dedication to serving others that kept it going 25 years. She spends 10 months a year working with Feed the Needy and doesn’t get paid a dime.

“In order to do that, you do have to have a love of God and a love of people in order to be able to do it, too, because its intensive. It’s work intensive,” she said.

Banks and her sister also founded the Helping Hands organization in the Westwood neighborhood where she lives. They give out backpacks, school supplies and sponsor everything from acting workshops to self-esteem seminars for teens. On Sundays, you’ll find out her singing in the choir at her church.

“I am deeply humbled and appreciative that the nomination committee looked down upon a child of God and a servant of God and selected me as one of the finalists,” Banks said.

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