The CREATE Foundation’s annual meeting celebrated the strides made during the COVID-19 pandemic, the community-building efforts of philanthropists Ed and Becky Meeks and the FIRST Foundation of Itawamba County, and the future of the organization as it readies to move to a new building and into its 50th year.
The annual meeting showed that despite nearly 20 months of challenges due to a worldwide pandemic, CREATE and its affiliates and supporters remain a strong force for good and growth in the region.
CREATE has handled $1.6 million in grants from the Mississippi CARES Act to provide assistance in direct response to COVID-19. It also partnered with the United Way of Northeast Mississippi to raise and distribute an additional $500,000-plus in similar assistance.
But the biggest announcements were the awards recognizing the CREATE affiliate and the people who have had a great impact across the 17 counties the Foundation serves.
The Friends of Itawamba Responding to Secure Tomorrow (FIRST) Foundation received the James Hugh Ray Award, which goes to one of CREATE’s 14 community affiliates. The award is named in honor of James Hugh Ray, who contributed greatly to Northeast Mississippi and the CREATE Foundation.
Then there were the Meeks, who CREATE honored with the 2021 McLean Award for Philanthropy, which is given to individuals, families or organizations that give back to their communities through charitable leadership.
The Meeks are a tremendous example of the philanthropy that has made CREATE and Northeast Mississippi so successful.
The couple has provided significant support and funding to the University of Mississippi, Blue Mountain College, and Mississippi College. They support the Boy Scouts, Campus Crusade for Christ, Charleston Arts and Revitalization Efforts, Oxford School District, Mayo Clinic, Oxford University Methodist Church and the Wesley Foundation. They are also active supporters of the Yocona Area Council of the Boy Scouts and the Oxford-Lafayette County affiliate of CREATE.
The Meeks also have deep roots in Tupelo. Ed Meek’s relationship with CREATE founder and former Daily Journal owner George McLean led him to found the Tupelo Furniture Market, which has been a tremendous economic driver for the area.
“(I) was going to build it in Southaven because Tupelo had no transportation hub, few hotels,” Meek said. “I decided, because of the impact of George McLean on my life and his can-do feeling about the community, it changed that.”
And it’s that spirit which continues to drive the mission of CREATE and so many other non-profit organizations in this area.