By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN – Several police officers from the Memphis Police Department’s Cordova/Appling Farms precinct pulled their cruisers up to the home of Martha Washington-Smith and made a beeline to the front door.
The intermittent show of force on May 13 may have drawn gawks and curious stares, and no doubt triggered the gossip mill, but a sign in Washington-Smith’s yard explained the officers’ presence – COP STOP.
COP STOP is the brainchild of Bob and Joanna McNeil-Young, a Germantown couple who started feeding police officers in 2015 to show their support for the arduous job they do to keep the community safe.
The mission is to provide fellowship and goodwill by opening homes throughout communities and provide home-cooked, family-style meals to local law enforcement officers.
A news report featuring the benevolent couple serving police officers in their home caught Washington-Smith’s attention and inspired her to open her home to the men and women who swore to “serve and protect.”
She inquired about COP STOP and joined the group a few months later – but not before going through the vetting process. The homes can’t be in an area where there is a potential for ambush, Washington-Smith said.
Accustomed to feeding the homeless via Golden Gate Cathedral, her home church, Washington-Smith was eager to serve the first responders in “Mama’s Kitchen,” a name she uses to describe her love of cooking.
“God has blessed my daughter, Tamika C. Washington, and I to become a part of your ministry!! Your ministry is rapidly growing,” said Washington-Smith, thanking the Youngs on Facebook after a successful COP STOP last year.
“When I do it, I do it from my heart. It warms my heart,” said Washington-Smith, an employee at Express Scripts. This is the fifth COP STOP she’s hosted. An usher at the church, she is used to serving people.
“The Lord has blessed me to be a blessing,” she said. “I believe in giving them flowers while they live.”
Washington-Smith and her daughter prepared turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, cabbage, baked chicken, mac and cheese, corn and green beans. After the full-course meal, the officers sampled ice cream, peach cobbler and banana pudding.
Theori Wade, Tamika’s 8-year-old daughter, helped to prepare the latter dessert. She wanted in on the action.
“It’s great. It’s awesome…the food…the people,” said Officer J.M. McCoy, a 14-year veteran with the MPD. He added that COP STOP helps to bridge the gap between the police and civilians.
“Most people who see the uniform think we are coldhearted. But we are people just like you,” said McCoy, who dined one other time at Washington-Smith’s home and remembered her hospitality.
“I just love it,” said Washington-Smith, who spends her own money to feed dozens of officers throughout the day. Many of them arrive on an empty stomach and fill up between calls.
“At one COP STOP, I had about 40 police officers in my house at the same time,” she said.
Lt. J. B. Bell has been with the MPD for 34 years. Saturday was his fifth COP STOP. Like McCoy, he said the invitation to dine at the home of a civilian “shows that people in the community do care.”
“There are some good people in the community,” the lieutenant added.
Officer D. Johnson, a 14-year veteran with the MPD, has eaten at Washington-Smith’s home each time she’s extended an invitation.
“The food is great and wonderful,” said Johnson, trying to find another word in his lexicon to describe Washington-Smith’s cooking.
Johnson barely finished a plate before he was called to duty. He left and other officers came in behind him.
“I thank God for you,” Bell told Washington-Smith at the dinner table. “Not many black people do this for the police.”
“Showing love to these deserving men and women is the only way to change things in the community,” Washington-Smith said.