The 116th Congress is composed of the highest percentage of women in U.S. history. However, gender inequality is still very real. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women in America experience poverty rates that are higher than men, and women are paid 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. In Memphis, where poverty rates are among the highest in the nation, these facts represent the lives of very real women, who face barriers in reaching their full potential. Fortunately, this city also contains nonprofits that support and empower women by addressing issues specific to their needs. Get to know four such organizations that are making a tremendous difference in the lives of Memphis women.

4 Memphis Nonprofits Making a Difference for Women

Thistle & Bee

Thistle & Bee is a social enterprise that produces honey and granola, and supports women who have experienced sex trafficking and prostitution. Survivors employed at Thistle & Bee help with every aspect of the honey production — care for the bees, harvesting, bottling and marketing of the honey.

“Since we began employing women in June of 2017, we have employed nine women total,” says Eyleen Farmer, founder of Thistle & Bee. “We are pleased that two of the original five are still with us and on track to graduate in June 2019. Newer program participants will reach their one-year anniversary this spring.”

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Thistle & Bee has more than 60 bee colonies on 12 sites all over Shelby County and beyond, containing industrious bees that produce delicious honey. Image: Thistle & Bee

RELATED: Jordan Boss of Thistle & Bee: FACES of Memphis

While part of the clergy staff of Calvary Episcopal Church, Eyleen became inspired by the ministry of Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms in Nashville. Eyleen attended Thistle Farms’ inaugural conference in October 2013, and she returned to Memphis with the idea that the Thistle Farms model could be replicated here. Eyleen and others started a pilot project in the spring of 2014 to test the idea of building a social enterprise to employ survivors or prostitution and trafficking. In 2015, they obtained a charter and began operations. Women are referred to Thistle & Bee by other organizations, such as the Salvation Army and RestoreCorps.

“It’s been an amazing journey made possible by the commitment and tireless work of many volunteers determined to make a beautiful idea a reality,” says Eyleen.

My Cup of Tea

Another female-based social enterprise is neighborhood-focused. My Cup of Tea sells specialty teas through employment programs that benefit women in Orange Mound. Job creation is particularly important in this neighborhood, because the unemployment rate of the 38114 ZIP code, of which Orange Mound is a part, is 19.65 percent. Their mission is “to work with women beyond the boundaries of poverty and neglect and assist them in finding their purpose.”

The nerve center of My Cup of Tea is The House Orange Mound Resource Center, at the corner of Carnes and Semmes. Here, in a cozy house as old as the neighborhood itself, women in Orange Mound learn every aspect of tea production, including marketing, shipping and packing. “We have 14 employees currently,” says Carey Moore, owner of My Cup of Tea. “We have employed 24 women since 2015.” She added that four women left employment at My Cup of Tea to transition to full-time employment.

“We’ve created a workforce and a community within a community,” says Carey.

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Sitting at the corner of Semmes and Carnes, The House Orange Mound Resource Center is the headquarters of My Cup of Tea and a place of sanctuary in the neighborhood. Image: Tamara Williamson

RELATED: Britney Thornton, Founder of JUICE Orange Mound: FACES of Memphis

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Women at My Cup of Tea engage in Bible study at “The House.” Image: Tamara Williamson

local nonprofits

My Cup of Tea sells a Memphis-based line of tea featuring Bluff City names. Image: Tamara Williamson

Sister Supply

There is one nonprofit for women that tackles an issue familiar to women but still taboo in society: menstruation. Sister Supply provides tampons, pads and underwear to women who are homeless and affected by poverty in Memphis. Nikii Richey and Eli Cloud founded Sister Supply in 2014 in order to help women in homeless shelters, but now most of the requests come from schools. Recent statistics state that nearly one in five American girls misses school because of their periods.

“Shelby County school system has recently started necessity closets in each one of their schools, and they’re reaching out to organizations like us to fill them,” said Nikii. “So Sister Supply is the provider for pads for all Shelby County school necessity closets now. We anticipate that it will at least double our program in the year 2019.”

Nikii adds that Sister Supply would like to see pads stocked in all of the girls’ bathrooms in the Shelby County school system, like toilet paper and hand towels. “We’re currently running a pilot project with Crosstown High School, supplying open access to pads in their bathrooms to see if the products are abused or stolen.”

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Eli Cloud and Nikii Richey (pictured) founded Sister Supply after Eli heard a story of a homeless woman who, while seeking shelter and menstruating, bled on the couch of a local business and faced the wrath of a security guard. Image: Sister Supply

local nonprofits

Sister Supply prepares packets of supplies for women who need period supplies. Image: Sister Supply

A Step Ahead Foundation

A Step Ahead Foundation specializes in providing free long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) to women in Memphis and Shelby County. By providing access to contraception, A Step Ahead’s goal is to increase positive pregnancy outcomes for both the mother and the child and lower infant mortality, as well as decrease poverty by reducing economic strain on those who experience unplanned pregnancies and help encourage career opportunities before childbirth.

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Interns at A Step Ahead Foundation work at health fairs, spreading knowledge about the services available. Image: A Step Ahead Foundation

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A Step Ahead Foundation provides outreach programs at schools and community organizations. Image: A Step Ahead Foundation

“We’ve served over 6,000 women since our founding at the end of 2011,” says Marketing and Communications Director Angela Wallace. “We have also served many more women through our outreach and educational programs, partners in prevention and scholarship.”

A Step Ahead Foundation partners with health clinics that are geographically near the patient. “We have a partnership with Lyft,” says Angela. “If someone needs transportation to and from their appointment, we will schedule a Lyft ride to pick them up at their desired location and drop them back off.”

A Step Ahead Foundation, Thistle & Bee, My Cup of Tea and Sister Supply exist to meet the needs of women in Memphis. Each in its own way is empowering women so that they can move forward and reach their full potential.

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