‘If you can just give them just a little hope, that’s what you need to do’

1. Parkside students mimic reindeer antlers while belting out a jazzy version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at Parkside Outreach Program’s community meal and program on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. (Cayla Grace Murphy)

Parkside Outreach, Parkside School partner for Christmas meal and program

BAILEYTON, Ala. – The scent of chicken and dressing and fresh rolls wafted through Parkside School’s lunchroom on Saturday evening, Dec. 16, 2023, as Baileyton residents filed in for a free hot meal and seasonal entertainment provided by Parkside students. Jennifer Harlow of Parkside Outreach Program estimates around 1,200 residents came through the doors that evening, marking one of the largest get-togethers yet.

The annual meal and program are typically months in the making, with the school, local churches, businesses and nonprofits like Parkside Outreach Program pitching in here and there to ensure success.

“We started planning in September with (Parkside School Counselor) Mrs. (Kim) Crumbley, and we’ve got the Parkside Advisory Committee and Parkside Outreach Program. Basically, a whole congregation of people, it’s definitely been a community event!” said Harlow.

While the event had usually been hosted at local favorite Kim’s Parkside Restaurant, over the years more and more folks have shown up to grab a bite to eat and commune with other Baileyton locals, leading to a need for more space. On the search for a larger venue, Harlow said she felt Parkside School was the obvious choice – and Parkside Principal Caleb Elrod quickly agreed.

“She called and said, ‘We want to feed a lot of people,’ so I paused and said, ‘Well, okay! Let’s do it,’” he beamed, mentioning that with everything Parkside Outreach manages to make happen for the students of Parkside, it was an honor to be able to return a favor.

“Anything we or the kids need, we just turn it over to them and they make it happen,” he said, with Crumbley confirming that what Elrod stated was no exaggeration: pants, socks and underwear, school supplies and backpacks packed with pantry staples for the weekend are just a few of the items Harlow is able to help provide to students through Parkside Outreach.

“She (Harlow) gives back from what God has blessed her with, and gives back to all of us,” Crumbley said with a smile.

Ever humble, Harlow shrugged and said, “We just do whatever the school needs us to do. We’re here to help them!”

The meal kicked off at 4 p.m. with a Christmas program featuring students of Parkside beginning promptly at 5; students evoked glad tidings and joy as they incorporated musical elements like bucket drums for a loud rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” and shook bell bracelets for a festive and upbeat version of “Jingle Bells.” After the program, a few stragglers found their way to the lunchroom to finish off any leftovers.

Harlow said while the meal and program typically mark the end of the Christmas season for most, Parkside Outreach isn’t slowing down on meeting the needs of kids in Baileyton any time soon. “We have provided right at 250 kids with Christmas so far, but we’ll probably have about 400 by the end of the week,” she said.

When asked why she felt the need to continue hosting this event year after year, she gave a soft yet succinct answer. “I think there are so many people in our community who are just lonesome; they have nowhere to go. If you can just give them just a little hope, that’s what you need to do.”

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