‘We are truly better together!’

Creative thinking, community support help Cullman Caring for Kids press on through 2020 

Cullman Caring for Kids’ “three masketeers” (left to right) Tonja Grace, Vaughn Grace and Assistant Director Nancy Bryant (Photo courtesy of Tonja Grace)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman Caring for Kids (CCK) saw a lot in 2020: increasing numbers of new clients, dwindling stocks and even a brief closure of its food bank. But the organization also saw its staff get creative in problem solving, and an outpouring of support from the community that kept things working through the worst of times.

CCK Executive Director Javon Daniel said, “It was the most unusual year I can ever remember. It was hard because of COVID due to the changes we had to make. At the same time, it was also rewarding because it showed the true giving heart of the community.”

Administrative Assistant Tonja Grace said, “It was something I myself, or most anyone else, had never experienced. You go to school and learn about history and read the stories about pandemics and plagues, but you never think you will have to live through one. I think it taught us all to be more humble and be grateful for what we do have. It taught us to appreciate the ‘little’ things in life as they turn out to be bigger than we ever imagined.”

By the numbers

In 2020:

  • Families served: 6,054
  • Individuals served: 11,608
  • New families: 938
  • Total food donated: 340,616 pounds
  • Average monthly donation of food: 28,385 pounds
  • Average amount of food given to each family per visit: 70 pounds
  • Total food purchased in 2020: 150,000 pounds

Grace noted, “All of this food went right back out as fast as it came in.”

CCK’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program served 93 children in the court system with 27 volunteers.

Grace told The Tribune, “Our numbers have decreased in 2020. We started out with higher numbers, and once COVID hit in March, our numbers started to drop. Even though our normal client numbers dropped, we did see an increase for new clients.”

One long “wow” story

Grace shared, “For Cullman Caring For Kids, the entire year has been a ‘wow’ story. We started 2020 on the high note of helping record numbers of clients, our CASA volunteers started class, and we began our 15th year of hosting the ‘Kids Matter’ radio program, and also completed our first year of airing the program on Praise 97.9. 

“As everyone knows, March was not kind to any of us. We did have to close for a few days to regroup and get a plan together on how we could best serve the community. We started the drive-thru pickup for food, which was a huge change and adjustment for us. After a few kinks were worked on, the operation was up and running as smooth as it possibly could. Assistant Director Nancy Bryant and a few staff members kept things going for over two months during the hardest time, while the rest of the staff worked remotely. 

“We have learned so much in 2020: perseverance, health, personal safety and, yes, helping others in ways we have never done before. When we think of all the people, individuals, organizations and corporations that have played such a vital role in helping Cullman Caring For Kids in 2020, our hearts are just overwhelmed. You, this town, kept Cullman Caring For Kids going. Every dollar donated, every can of food, every hour spent by our precious volunteers, made a difference in the life of many. No matter the size of the donation, someone in this community received a blessing. 

“Since we are a United Way agency, every time you donate to United Way, you are supporting us as well.”

Daniel added, “The staff of Cullman Caring For Kids want to thank each and every one of you who have supported us in any way.”

Bigger and better in 2021

“We have big plans for 2021,” said Grace. “Due to COVID-19 we were not able to conduct any of our Child Abuse Awareness Month activities. This year we anticipate making it bigger and better than ever before. They may not be close-contact events, but it will happen. We have huge plans and look forward to being more accessible this year as far as the food bank goes, and that will be announced at a later date, so please keep an eye out for upcoming events.

“COVID made CASA much harder for everyone. Volunteers were not able to see their CASA children face to face as often as they normally do. Court cases were postponed, trials rescheduled, causing cases to take longer to close. This put a tremendous strain on all who were involved, especially the children. Our CASA program is looking for new volunteers to help advocate for more children in the court system. ‘Every child deserves to have a happy childhood’ will be over emphasized this year.”

The final word

CCK Assistant Director Nancy Bryant told The Tribune, “2020 was a challenge for so many people and for the employees here at Cullman Caring for Kids. We had so many changes to meet the demand for the families in need. We met so many people who would never ask for help. We were here for them and they appreciated it so much. We did what we did to protect ourselves, yet kept pressing on. The first month was extremely busy as we worked with just a skeleton crew. The volunteers who also came to our rescue were amazing. The food donations, the monetary donations, they saved us. Others stopped in to help us as well so that no one would fall through the gaps. We truly are better together! 

“Please remember COVID-19 is real and to protect yourself and the people you love. Please wear your mask and wash your hands! Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts for all efforts made to see that Cullman Caring for Kids was a success despite the odds!”

Get involved

CCK is still having to work hard to keep its food pantry stocked. CCK can always use monetary donations, and if you’re on the way to the grocery store, the pantry’s high-volume items regularly include canned beans, especially other than green beans, canned vegetables, dried beans, cereal and rice.

CCK reports a particular shortage of cereal at this time, so consider helping out during your next visit to the grocery store. Donations can be dropped off at CCK’s office, 402 Arnold St. NE, #W-1.

To get involved, visit www.cullmancaringforkids.com or www.facebook.com/CullmanCaringForKids/ or call 256-739-1111. 

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W.C. Mann