‘There are still lots of good folks out there’

Year End Reports: Victoria’s Hope celebrates community involvement through challenges of 2021

(Photo courtesy of Victoria’s Hope)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Victoria’s Hope began in 2018 in Dodge City as a ministry to help single parents in need. Since then, it has grown into a full-time thrift store near the heart of Cullman, where families in need shop for free, and where profits are channeled into other local charities.  For founder April Bowen German, 2021 was a year of tragic loss and increasing need, but with that need, more opportunities to serve.

“As I reflect back on 2021, it was definitely a year of change for Victoria’s Hope,” said German. “We started the year losing one of our very own, Robert, to complications from COVID. That left a huge void in our lives, and his shining personality is something that we will always miss. 

“We moved into a new location in late January, which was a huge leap of faith. After moving to the new location, we saw our clientele and customer numbers increase greatly. I think that the new location helped get the word out about us. In 2021 we helped roughly 540 families financially in the forms of clothing and household donations or coming in after a house fire or foster children. We served close to 200 children on our Butterfly Tree at Christmas. 

“We began the Butterfly Tree back in 2019, and I am amazed at how much it has grown since then. None of this could have been possible without the help of this amazing community. That’s what I love so much about this experience, seeing the way this community comes together to just make it work. We have also contributed financially to schools in the community as the need arose, because being an educator myself that is something that is very important to me.”

German launched Victoria’s Hope to help single parents, but she has seen the ministry grow into much more. 

Germans said, “We have homeless who come in and need blankets and clothing, people who need clothing for job interviews but can’t afford anything until they get their first paycheck, people who need suits for an unexpected funeral, people who just need an electric skillet to make supper for the family; the list goes on and on. We want Victoria’s Hope to be somewhere where people know they can come in without judgement and get the help that they need. Anyone can fall on hard times, so we want people to know that that is what we are here for. 

“We also have individuals that come in that do not necessarily qualify for our services, but still need help obtaining clothing or other things. That is where our thrift store comes into play. We use the funds from items sold at the thrift store to pay our overhead and to put money back into the Cullman community, yet we also try to keep prices extremely low so everyone can afford the things. People often joke about how we just basically give everything away, and we kind of do, for the most part. But we have been so blessed at the donations that just keep coming in, we feel that’s our way of paying the community back.

She continued, “We also had a day this past month where the customer paid based on the honor system. We had a bucket, and whatever you felt your total should be, you placed in the bucket without anyone knowing the amount. We did it right before Christmas to help out anyone who might still need some last-minute things but were low on funds. It was such a success that we have talked about doing this more often.”

Victoria’s Hope operates without any kind of regular corporate sponsorship, though local businesses have been generous in giving. Still, the work is a challenge at times.

Said German, “Honestly, there have been months that we were scared we weren’t going to make rent, but thank the Lord, we always have. I feel as long as we continue to give and do the right thing, that God is going to take care of us, and He has for the past three and a half years. 

“We have been blessed to have been helped by many local businesses including Mr. Plumber, Andy Podner with Atlas Precision Sculpting, State Farm Insurance Agent Shirley Quattlebaum, Express Meds Pharmacy, and many individuals we call our ‘angels’ who choose to be anonymous. All of these people have been a huge blessing to us. We also have partnered throughout the year with many other services and nonprofits such as The Link, DHR, Restoring Women Outreach, The Public Library and Flourish of Cullman. 

“We had so much fun partnering with Flourish this past Summer. For five weeks we had three of their amazing teens come and work with us. They worked four hours a day and assisted us with tasks such as sorting, hanging, cleaning up the outside and basically anything that we needed. They were such a huge help and the customers really bonded with them. I was excited to be able to experience this with them since it was during summer break. We all became extremely close during that time, and I hated to see them go. I look forward to doing it again next summer. I love how our various programs come together for the good of Cullman County. We would love to partner with other companies around the community. The more we come together, the more that we are able to do!

“We definitely couldn’t sum up 2021 without thanking our amazing volunteers. Lyndsay, Rona, Amy, Heidi, Lora, Lillie, Wendy, Jency, Teresa, Charles and Kassie and our endless numbers of customers that we call family that have stepped in when it was needed the most.”

Reflecting on the last three years

German shared, “I never in a million years would have thought it would come to this magnitude. When I first began Victoria’s Hope, I thought maybe I might help a couple of people here and there, or every so often someone would come to me with a need, and maybe I could get that for them. But the way it’s blown up because of this community, that’s something to be thankful for. When I first opened the thrift store, I remember telling my husband that I wanted to make it into a place where the community feels a part of it, a place not to sound cliche, but where everybody knows your name. And it blesses me so much to actually see it becoming that. When you walk into the door, you can just feel the love. There are so many acts of kindness that go on in that little building. And it’s not us, it’s everyone that walks into that store. Sometimes I think God places people in our store at the right time for a reason. We often see someone come and donate something that someone has just come in needing. 

“It’s amazing; there’s really no other way to put it. It’s a God thing. That’s what keeps me going. All of this started from me mourning my mother and wanting to do something positive in her memory. And because of this community it has turned into so much more. I can’t express my gratitude enough. 

“Thanking this community is something that I can never do enough of. I can honestly say we couldn’t do any of this without the support of the community. We took a leap of faith and people supported us. There’s not any words that can show how thankful we are. I hope that Victoria’s Hope will always be a place that the community feels like they are a huge part of, because they are. I believe people continue to support us because they feel a sense of family, and a family is what we are.”

Looking forward to the future

German said, “In 2022, we would love to be able to take some steps to one day possibly expand. We would love to maybe possibly one day purchase the current building that we are in; then we can look into expanding our space so we can have more room for donations. We always think every move we do that we are going to have more room, but we reach max capacity pretty quickly lol. So we hope to one day have a separate building to be able to sort and store donations. Right now, it gets extremely cluttered very quickly. 

“We also would like to one day as well in the future be able to hire an employee or two. Right now, we are based only on volunteers, and it’s worked up until now, but it’s starting to get to a point where it’s hard for the few of us to keep up. We would love to be able to be open more days a week as well, but being on a volunteer only basis right now it’s extremely hard. I also still would like to set up a Victoria’s Hope Scholarship at some local schools. As an educator, I want to give back in that way as much as possible.”

The final word

“I would be sugar coating things if I said that this has been easy,” said German. “It has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding things I have ever done. It’s definitely strengthened mine and my family’s faith and hope for humanity. The things I’ve seen and witnessed since beginning this, and the interactions I’ve seen among other people and that I’ve had myself, I just can’t explain it. People like to kid me about how much I tear up when I’m there. But the stories, the history, the connections between complete strangers, it’s just amazing. It just always reminds me that there are still lots of good folks out there, and sometimes the scariest risks to take become the most rewarding in the long run.”

Victoria’s Hope mourned the loss of every customer’s friend, Robert Squires. (Cullman Tribune file photo)

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