CULLMAN, Ala. – Karma in Cullman, a group that works toward making positive changes in our community through an array of means- from free community meals to a social media swap meet that only allows free items to be posted- faced off against COVID-19 in 2020, and found that, as needs increased, so did people’s willingness to help.
Founder Rachel Fillmore told The Tribune, “How to wrap up the year of 2020 for Karma in Cullman? I mean I am sure everyone you ask that question will react the same. We will all pause a moment, take a deep breath, and either laugh or cry.
“Honestly, I think 2020 has been the year that has taught us many lessons. This year has been an eye-opening experience for many people not only in our community but in our country. This year we had people who had never had to reach out to a food bank or need to ask for help with rent suddenly found themselves in that position. We repeatedly had to assure them that this is why we were here, to help in an emergency like they were in.”
Shutting down and ramping up
When the shutdown came in the spring, needs across the community were quickly on the rise. Faced with those needs and limited by cancelation of fundraising projects, Fillmore said she found two resources that could not be shut down: faith and the giving spirit of Cullman’s people.
Said Fillmore, “As the year went on, we started off strong with our annual Valentine’s Day Candy Bouquet fundraiser; however, as we started to prepare for our Easter Basket Fundraiser and spring and summer is when things went south, as we all know. Once the shelter at home orders were issued, we decided to follow those orders and close. We did decide to open up the food bank one day a week per the allowance of the order to continue serving the community even if in a limited capacity. Once things opened back up, we have still worked on a curbside pick only.
“As the year progressed, we just took it one day at a time. We proceeded with our Back-to-School Project, even when we were not 100% (sure) there would even be in-person classes. Again, we had people who had never needed assistance before come out and sign up because COVID-19 was still actively affecting their life. Then, of course, we chose to cancel our Suicide Awareness Walk, Trunk or Treat, as well as our Thanksgiving Dinner. These projects were dear to our hearts but we felt we could not put our members at risk, so they were cut pretty early on because safety was our priority.
“Of course, the biggest project for us is our Christmas Assistance, and this year was stressful. The fact that we could not have volunteers in a small space safely, due to lack of ability to do fundraising throughout the year, the lack of ‘bargain shopping’ which is a requirement to help the number of children we do each year, and knowing the need in the community would be overwhelming, I was not looking forward to the Christmas season. However, as I played with many ideas ranging from limiting spaces to even not doing the project at all, I did what I always do when I get stressed or worried: I prayed. I handed it over to God.
“I said I cannot do this alone, and the next day, He sent the sign that I wouldn’t have to do it alone. We had two businesses in the community donate, and so many members of the community came forward and adopted children from our lists. We had more children adopted this year than ever before, which was amazing. Karma in Cullman ultimately helped over 1,000 people with everything ranging from basic hygiene supplies, furniture, clothing, school clothes, school supplies, Christmas trees and Christmas gifts, and everything in between.
“In 2020 our client numbers went down in some ways and up in some ways. The number went down I am sure because the shutdown kept us closed for so long and the lack of volunteers due to safety concerns, and just availability keeps us on a limited open basis. However, we have seen an increase in new clients this year. In years past it has been repeating clients but we have seen more new clients who are out of work or they are struggling from limited hours of work again due to COVID.
“I know it is so easy to look at social media and news outlets and see the ugly the world has to offer: the pain, the suffering, the hate, the disrespect and sadness. However, I want to share the good that comes from social media. Karma in Cullman does have an office, but we do most of our reaching out through social media. We had so many people who were struggling themselves this year but stepped up anyway and say, ‘I want to help someone.’ We had people who did not really have a lot of money, but they bought extra crayons or notebooks and would drop them off for our back-to-school project. I know families who chose to adopt a family for Christmas instead of buying presents for each other this year, because they were just thankful to be able to be together this Christmas. Every day I would receive messages from someone needing help, but I would receive two messages from people wanting to help.”
The final word
Fillmore shared, “I can’t remember a year when I have seen uglier behavior in the world, but I can assure you the good in this world is still fighting strong. The good in the world has not given up and as we move into 2021, I urge everyone out there: be the good you want to see. Find a charity, a nonprofit or an organization to support this year, and do not just support them financially but vocally and physically. There are so many good ones here in Cullman County to choose from, and I am sure I can speak for them when I say we all need your support. So as we move out of 2020, I urge us all to take the lessons we have learned this year, such as now people are really washing their hands, we know the true value is not money but toilet paper, that people can come together in agreement in large groups, gas was the cheapest we had seen in years, and we finally recognized true heroes aren’t movie stars or sports stars but doctors, nurses, cashiers, stockers, restaurant workers, EMTs and other essential workers.
“We should leave behind the negativity, the hate, and the horrors we have seen this year. Instead, we move in the new year with our heads high, with the faith of better things to come and unity that the good will win. Wishing you all a brighter and healthier 2021.”
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