Partner Agency’s Founder Is Fueled by Her Faith as She Fights Food Insecurity
On March 7, 2020, days after deadly tornadoes ripped through Middle Tennessee, Antoinette Hargrove Duke stood in the open lot next to the heavily damaged Mt. Bethel Baptist Church in North Nashville. She was coordinating dozens of volunteers at what was supposed to be a scheduled Mobile Food Pantry with her nonprofit But God Ministry. Instead, it became a food lifeline for residents impacted by the storms.
A Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee Partner Agency, But God Ministry Nette Working For You, under the leadership of Antoinette, has been providing assistance to individual facing hunger in Davidson and Rutherford Counties since 2013. After the tornadoes and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization is helping thousands of children, families, and seniors at risk of hunger access the food they need.
“It’s incredible thinking of where we were a few years ago and the impact we are making today,” said Antoinette.
SERVICE FOR OTHERS
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, and one of 13 children, Antoinette first came to Nashville as a student at Fisk University. Through a cooperative program with NASA, she had planned to join the space agency’s personnel department. However, a budgeting issue the year she graduated meant no open positions were available. Disappointed but undeterred, Antoinette continued her work and education in the human resources field – gaining two master’s degrees. She now works as interim director of the Career Development Center at Tennessee State University.
“My career ended up being so much different from when I started, so when students come to me undecided and unsure of what they want to do, I share my story,” said Antoinette. “There is something really special about helping students find their course and making an impact in their lives. I get that same feeling when I am helping feed those who are struggling. It’s service for others.”
FOUNDED IN FAITH
That passion for service led Antoinette to begin But God Ministry. The name stems from a conversation she had with friends when first starting the nonprofit.
“I called some of my girlfriends and said, ‘This is not about us, but God,” said Antionette. “The name stuck. Even now when I am struggling or alone, I turn to my faith. I call it, ‘But God’ moments.”
But God Ministry is not a typical food ministry. Instead of a brick-and-mortar site, the nonprofit works with local faith-based organizations to find different sites each month to host Mobile Pantries – large-scale, drive-thru food distributions where clients can receive up to two weeks-worth of groceries – including fresh produce, dairy, meat, and pantry staples like bread, canned vegetables, and peanut butter.
“We don’t have a building or a food pantry,” said Antionette. “It’s just me, a group of amazing volunteers, two vans, a bunch of wagons, and a call to serve.”
Antoinette and a core group of about 40 volunteers coordinate and then help staff the Mobile Pantries which can distribute upward of 25,000 pounds of food in one morning.
“It takes a lot of work to coordinate these types of distributions, and many churches just don’t have the ability to do this on their own,” said Antoinette. “That’s where we come in. They have the same mission, the same goal, as we do – to serve others. We help them host the Mobile Pantries and feed the people in their communities that are struggling.”
As many neighbors in Middle Tennessee continue to recover from the deadly March 3 tornadoes and struggle during the pandemic, Antoinette believes that collaboration is the key to helping as many people as possible.
“We plan to seek opportunities to partner with other agencies because we can’t do it by ourselves,” she said. “As we partner with other agencies, as we look for those opportunities to provide more resources to the community, we can address more than just hunger because that is usually just a symptom of a larger problem. It’s a challenge, but we are up for it.”