L-R: Sheila Parker, Director Melissa Hudson, Jan Saylor, Linda Hawkins and Dianna Schmuck. / Photo courtesy Melissa Hudson
CULLMAN – Since 2011, Melissa Hudson has been on a mission to feed and clothe the needy of Cullman County. Right now, she is already in a perfect position to respond to those needs, working out of an office in the Cullman County Department of Human Resources (DHR) building on St. Joseph Street in Cullman, but she has her eyes in even bigger things like a self-sustaining farm that will offer shelter, food and meaningful work for the homeless.
Hudson and a few friends started The Crossing in her home in October 2011, and operated there until 2013, when they received an invitation to come to DHR.
Hudson related, “I came to a meeting here, and at the time the director here said, ‘Where’s your building? Where’s your office?’ ‘Well, it’s in my living room!’ So she let us let us have a place here, because they have several different places. They’ve got the CCC, the Committee on Church Cooperation, that helps with rent and stuff like that, right beside us. So they let us be here when they are, and they don’t charge us rent. We get the two days a week, and it’s awesome!
“It puts us right here, where a lot of people are in need. I mean, they come in the door for food stamps; the food stamp office refers people to us if they don’t qualify, or if they can’t get them right then. They say, ‘We have a food bank right here that can serve you today.’ It helps that struggle that they might have, until they can get approved.”
The Crossing is open at the DHR on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Tribune met Hudson there, to talk about what she’s doing now, and what she wants to do.
“We are a faith-based organization,” said Hudson. “Our goal is to show everyone who comes through the door the love of Jesus. We provide Bibles if they need Bibles; we have the ‘Daily Bread’ (devotional guides). That is not a requirement, of course. We pray with people; we have several people who come now and specifically ask us to pray with them for what they’ve got going on.
“What we do that is extremely different, is we set it up where people get to choose. We have on our refrigerators and freezers a list of what we have. Based on what we’ve had donated, we determine how many we can give you, based on your family size. You get to pick, just like you’d go shopping. When we first started–and we still run into it some, if it’s someone new–they would say, ‘Just give me whatever you have.’ We’re like, ‘No, we’re not going to do it that way. You’re going to pick.’
“I never really thought it would be hard for someone to come in and just say, ‘I want this and we eat that,’ but it seems to be extremely hard, and I think that’s because they feel degraded or less than, because they have to ask for help. People come and say, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ and we tell them, ‘That word is not allowed. We don’t talk like that. We all, at some time in our life, need help. This is your time, and we’re here to help you.’
“We provide food and clothes to anyone that says that they’re in need. We do have a check sheet that we get from the food bank, that has guidelines as far as income and stuff like that. But we also have a catch-all, that if you need food and you don’t necessarily fit into that, we can still serve you; because if you come to me and say you’re hungry, we’re going to make sure you get to eat.”
With an open-door policy like that, one might think The Crossing is a pushover for people wanting to take advantage of the system, but while generous, its staff is not gullible. The group is actually part of an organized community effort to reduce duplication and prevent fraud.
Hudson explained, “We keep our records on Charity Tracker, something The Link brought in; it’s a computer software program that links all of our nonprofits that sign up to it. We keep all our information there. That way, it’s available to everyone else that’s on Charity Tracker, so they can see who we see and how we serve them and how we help them. It kind of helps to hopefully keep down any fraud that there might be, or abuse of the system.”
The Crossing has a staff of five regular volunteers: Hudson, Jan Saylor, Linda Hawkins, Dianna Schmuck and Sheila Parker. A registered nonprofit, its work is overseen by a five-member board consisting of Hudson, Stephanie Kenney, Kerry Hanvey, Sherry Tabor and Lisa Jones. The organization serves an average of 33 to 34 families per day, with occasional spikes of up to 40. That translates into more than 260 area families per month.
“We do it by the household,” said Hudson “and we always check their address. We serve them based on how many people are there.”
The Crossing’s staff appreciates being face-to-face with needs in the DHR building, but it does limit the ministries it can offer. For that reason, it is looking to move its base of operations to a place of its own.
“Our goal is to have a place where we can serve an actual hot meal,” Hudson shared. “I’d like to do it regular, at least once a week, but first, we’ve got to have a kitchen. The stuff we pick up sometimes, if it won’t last till Tuesday–we pick up on the weekend–we could prepare, if we could prepare it right then, and feed it to people.
“We would like to have a place where people can eat, people could take a shower, and someday a place where, if you’re homeless–I know that’s not always well-received–but we’d like a place for that. We figure people could get employed if they’re clean and if they’re fed, where they can think, I think that would help.
“And the place that we have in mind, God showed me this place right after I started. It’s on Highway 31, and has 19 acres. We think there could be room there, maybe, to garden, and have the people we serve actually volunteer their time to work it.
“I’ve talked to the owners, and we’re trying to negotiate a way we could actually go ahead and possess it and start preparing it, because it’s just a field. We have a vision of being able to put a homeless shelter, because it’s kind of off the road where they would be safe, and be protected as well.
“I go to the jail on Fridays with people from my church and Awakening the Bride, and we also would like to incorporate that, where the work release has a place to come work: help us work the gardens and things like that–try to help people learn to do better, kind of disciple them, and help them get out of poverty.”
The Crossing is planning a meal in early December, to serve its clients between the community meals that usually take place right around Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are looking for a good place to hold the event, and will gladly accept donations of food or money to help put it on.
On a regular basis, the organization goes rapidly through certain items, and often runs short of hygiene products and kits, canned foods and other non-perishables, diabetic-friendly low- or no-sugar food, dessert, and snack items and coffee.
The Crossing is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. All donations are tax-deductible, and the staff is working on a webpage that will allow online giving. In the meantime, visit www.facebook.com/TheCrossingCullman.
Copyright 2017 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.