Shelby County Judges Team Up To Fight Hunger This Holiday Season

December 18, 2020

Not cold weather, sleet, or COVID-19 could stop judges and attorneys in the 30th Judicial District from collecting food for those in need this holiday season.

Usually 30th Judicial District Circuit Judge Valerie Smith holds a food drive at her home as part of an annual holiday party for members of The Leo Berman, Sr. American Inn of Court, of which she is the current president. Due to the ongoing pandemic, though, this year she dropped the party and kept the food drive, moving it to a nearby parking lot.

She, several family members, and event co-organizer 30th Judicial District Circuit Judge Robert Samual Weiss stood outside in the wintry conditions accepting checks and loading food donations from members of the Inn of Court into the trunk of Judge Smith’s van, which was festooned with Christmas lights. That evening they collected over 200 pounds of food and over $4,000 for the Mid-South Food Bank. Total monetary donations have grown in recent days to more than $6,000 thanks to an online giving option set up with the food bank. That is enough to provide 18,000 meals. Judges from the federal, state, and county levels all contributed to the cause, Judge Smith said.

Judge Smith and Judge Weiss both feel privileged to be able to contribute to the community in this way alongside other members of the Inn of Court.

“We’re all fortunate to be in a positions where we’re not wondering where our next meal is coming from,” Judge Smith said.

“It is great that we were able to raise so much and support the Mid-South Food Bank when so many are in need,” Judge Weiss added.

The Mid-South Food Bank distributes food through a network of close to 300 partner organizations that includes soup kitchens, shelters, food pantries, and rehabilitation and residential centers, according to its website.

Judge Smith saw the distribution system at work first-hand when she arrived at the food bank to donate the 200 pounds of food and the money that had been collected.

“I saw cars there loading up and then when I got to the court house I saw those same cars unloading at a nearby soup kitchen,” she said.  

Despite the unconventional location and the weather, this year’s drive actually raised more than last year’s. Judge Smith hopes that next year’s endeavor can achieve the same success indoors.

“Hopefully we can have a party again and raise as much or more for the food bank,” she said.

Judge Smith was appointed to the Thirtieth Judicial District Circuit Court in 2016 by Governor Bill Haslam and subsequently won election to the seat. Prior to taking the bench, she served for six years as an assistant district attorney in Shelby County and then spent 10 years in private practice. She is a graduate of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

Judge Weiss was elected to the Thirtieth Judicial District Circuit Court bench in 2010 and won reelection in 2014. He was in private practice before joining the judiciary. He also received his Juris Doctor from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

From left, Judge Robert Samual Weiss, Judge W. Mark Ward, and Judge Valerie Smith collect food and donations for the Mid-South Food Bank