Bringing out the best: The Link supplies agencies, starts drive-thru food distribution

Donations pour in

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The Link of Cullman County staff and volunteers distribute food via a “social distancing”-friendly drive-thru line Tuesday afternoon. (W.C. Mann for the Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Link of Cullman County, a local clearinghouse for resources to combat poverty, ran a marathon of sorts Tuesday. Starting early in the morning, staff and volunteers picked up, sorted and distributed four small trailer loads of perishable food items donated by Cullman City Schools. The items went out to nine other area agencies for distribution to local residents in need. 

By the afternoon, they were running The Link’s first-ever drive-thru food distribution day, allowing people to get needed supplies while maintaining their proper “social distance” due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Around 3 p.m., Link Lead Encourager Paige Williams said, “We have a lot going on today. We started the food bank at 1:30, and we had a lot of cars lined up, and then we had cars waiting in our other parking lot. We’ve probably already disbursed 30 or 40 cars.”

Link Director Julie Hall told The Tribune, “We were trying to voluntarily respect the 6-foot distance required that’s kind of come out through the Alabama Department of (Public) Health. We thought, to protect our participants in our food pantry and to provide them still with the food that they need, we decided that we would give it a shot. And it was super successful!

“We were really, really pleased with how everybody participated and how willing they were to just try something new, and so we will put this down in the books as a great success!”

Bags of groceries filled tables and counters in The Link’s dining/activity hall, and Williams showed this reporter a room with walls lined with even more bags, about which she said, “East Elementary brought them to us, and then we’ve just had the public coming in to donate items to make bags.”

Those bags will be distributed specifically to local families with children.

According to Hall, the drive-thru distribution will continue, on The Link’s regular food pantry days, for the foreseeable future, but “When they lift some of these suggestions, we’ll go back to the old way, because we are kind of hands-on and we really love to sit with people and talk with people, and this has taken that away from us a little bit. But we just want to protect them; we don’t want them to be exposed to anything, and we just want to keep them healthy.”

The Link partners with Cullman County EMA and other community agencies

The Link’s Prosperity Fund Coordinator Melissa Betts approached the Cullman County Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) this week with an offer to coordinate emergency food distribution at its facility, if the need arises. 

Said Hall, “We just want to help. And we know that would take a lot off of them, and it would give everybody a good, just one place to go to, and that’s why we offered that.”

CEMA Director Phyllis Little told The Tribune that, while there is currently no known need or plan for emergency food distribution, she accepted the offer and said of Betts, “Should the need arise, she’ll be the first one I call.”

Betts said, “We’re working with anywhere from local food banks, church pantries; we’ve talked with Meals on Wheels if they need volunteers to increase that operation. We’re here to help coordinate anything that needs to happen, as far as food.”

The Crossing, formerly located at the Cullman County DHR office, has relocated to The Link’s facility and will restart its own food distribution soon.

The Link’s next drive-thru food distribution will take place Thursday, March 19 from 8:30-11:30 a.m., then next Tuesday, March 24 from 1:30-4:30 p.m.  A photo ID is required.  Dinners for the Link’s regular fourth Thursday community meal next week will packed to go; meals will still be served, but not for onsite dining.

For more information, visit www.linkingcullman.org or call 256-775-0028. The Link is located at 708 Ninth St. SE, Cullman, AL 35055.

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In The Link’s dining room, staff and volunteers prepare bags of food for distribution through the drive-thru line Tuesday. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)
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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com