CULLMAN, Ala. – Most Cullmanites are familiar with the Cullman Caring for Kids (CCK) food pantry, a charitable program so active and successful that many people do not realize that the organization is responsible for other areas of service. As April approaches, CCK is preparing for a monthlong emphasis on its real mission: preventing violence against children.
“Our mission is child abuse prevention and awareness and has been since 1988,” said CCK Assistant Director Nancy Bryant.
When asked what makes CCK unique, Bryant said, “The staff and the volunteers at CCK and how they work together to make a difference in the community for those who are in need. We bring awareness about child abuse; that is the reason we started and that is our mission. If you see blue ribbons tied around town during April, that’s us. We are representing the blue for the bruises on the sweet and innocent babies who lost their life due to child abuse here in Alabama.”
Last year, 21 children in Alabama lost their lives due to child abuse.
CCK Executive Director Javon Daniel said, “CCK is well known for its food bank, but we have many other programs that we operate from such a small building. Did you know that we have a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) program in which you can volunteer and be the voice for a child that is caught up in the court system?”
CCK’s reputation as a food bank is well-earned; the organization distributes 8 to 10 tons of food per month to families in need. That being said, how does a child protection group get into the grocery business?
Daniel responded, “If you have a hungry 2- or 3-year-old child, there’s no food in the house, and you have no idea where that food to feed that child is going to come from that child is crying, and they’re grumpy and they’re fussy. And if we can prevent one parent from being angry enough to strike that child, then the food bank has accomplished what we set out to do.
“It’s a preventative, it’s a proactive stance. And this happens a lot. Children are abused, especially younger children, when they’re not happy, and the parents have gone to their wits’ end and they just have to do something. We offer the alternative that, ‘Hey, you can come in here and we can give you enough food to last you for several days, to help you past that point.’
“That one child may later wind up in the court system or in the DHR (Department of Human Resources) system. And if we can prevent that, that’s what we’re here for.”
CCK’s other programs include:
CASA-Court Appointed Special Advocates
Trained volunteers are assigned to specific cases by courts and conduct independent investigations into cases of abuse, to do whatever is in a child’s best interest.
Daniel described CASA volunteers as “the eyes and ears for the judge, because the judge cannot get out and do that in every case. But, more importantly, I think, is that they become the voice for the child, because children have very little to say about custody cases and abuse cases. It’s just important that they know that they have somebody who, their only purpose is to be there for that child. We don’t work for DHR, we don’t work for the attorneys. We are there as volunteers to help that child to get into a safe, permanent home as soon as possible.”
Radio shows on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays address child abuse prevention to a regional market of more than 1 million potential listeners. Some topics might be uncomfortable to discuss, but Daniel insists that no worthwhile subject is off the table if its discussion can help stop or prevent abuse.
Said Daniel, “Kids do matter, and what they think, and what they’re experiencing, and what they’re going through does matter. What we try to do is we try to talk about children and family issues every week that will help those listeners to get as good information as we can possibly give them about a given situation or subject. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite part, but it’s way up on the list, because I like to talk! But it’s very important.”
By the numbers
In 2020, CCK’s client and other numbers dropped due to COVID shutdowns, but were still high.
- 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
- The CASA program served 93 children in the court system, with 27 volunteers.
Help for families, not just children
When parents know that they can care for their children, there is less tension in the household, so CCK serves whole families.
Daniel said, “Our name says Cullman Caring for Kids, and most just assume we help children. We actually help the elderly, and anyone who needs food.”
“That is what we are here for,” said CCK Administrative Assistant Tonja Grace. “In the wintertime, we give out coats, and all year we help those who need food, diapers, baby food, formula, etc. If we don’t have it, we have the resources to point you in the right direction to get what you need. We also help with hygiene products and cleaning products and try to be there for those who could have lost everything in a house fire.”
One of the staff’s favorite things is the distribution of birthday bags.
“The entire staff gets excited when we are able to give these out,” said Daniel. “When a client comes in and we pull their file, and a child has a birthday that month, they get a birthday bag. This bag includes a cake mix, cake icing, balloons, streamers, candles, party hats, party favors and a small gift. These bags would not be possible without Southside Baptist Church here in Cullman. They are a fine group of people who help us by keeping these bags stocked monthly.”
Community partners share the load
Daniel told The Tribune, “We partner with several agencies on a local and a state level. Local offices include United Way, DHR, Brooks’ Place, Margaret Jean Jones, Christmas Love Inc., the Cullman County Court System, and we also partner with the Alabama CASA program.
“We need the continued support from our local partners. We absolutely enjoy our partnerships here locally. Becky Goff, the executive director of United Way, has done a great job in supporting us and helping us to find the resources to help serve the community. Publix also plays a huge role in our operation as well. Publix donated food, back-to-school gift cards and monetary donations. Wal-Mart Distribution and the South-end Wal-Mart, well we couldn’t function without these guys. During the pandemic, Wal-Mart Distribution had our backs. They made sure we were supplied with sanitizer, gloves, masks, etc. so that we could keep the doors open and continue to serve the community.”
CCK works hard to keep its food pantry stocked, and can always use monetary donations. If you are on the way to the grocery store and want to help, the pantry’s high-volume items regularly include canned beans, especially other than green beans, canned vegetables, dried beans, cereal and rice. Donations can be dropped off at CCK’s office, 402 Arnold St. NE, #W-1.
Many local churches, schools and businesses often sponsor canned good, cereal, winter coat and other drives to benefit CCK.
Have a need? Reach out
Daniel said, “As people lost their jobs and the need for food increased, we saw the struggle firsthand. We don’t want anyone to go hungry. Here at Cullman Caring for Kids, we don’t want you to be afraid to ask for help. Everyone has a hard time every now and then, and we just want you to know we are here for you. If you don’t need food and just need a friend to pray with you, well we can do that, too. Feel free to contact us here at CCK at 256-739-1111.”
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