‘This is my home. I felt like I could do the most good here’

Key players of the Parkside Outreach Program are, left to right, Jennifer Harlow, Amy Towles, Jill Green and Jena Smith. (Cayla Grace Murphy)

Parkside Outreach Program

BAILEYTON, Ala. – The Parkside Outreach Program is one of many nonprofits nestled firmly in the far reaches of Cullman County, this one serving the communities of Baileyton, Fairview and anyone else who needs it.

Founder Jennifer Harlow said while her public outreach has a private years-long history, the nonprofit began humbly in 2018 as a way to continue her late husband’s legacy of giving back.

“My late husband had a motorcycle store in Arab, and we always did poker runs and fundraisers, sponsored kids and stuff like that,” she said. “So when he passed away, I said ‘Well, we have to do something positive.”

Harlow said a few smalls acts of kindness had a snowball effect, leading to the outreach program as it is known today.

“We started out with $10,000 and a dream, and this is where we’re at now,” she laughed, waving to the stocked food pantry around her. While Parkside is multifaceted in its approach to tackling real-world issues brought on by economic instability, offering a clothing closet and hygiene items to those in need, it is perhaps best known by its hunger relief efforts.

Harlow said the food pantry aspect of Parkside is currently serving upward of 200 families a week with food boxes, and 52 families every weekend through a program known simply as “the backpack program.” Backpacks are stuffed with pantry essentials to get families of students at Parkside School through the weekend.

“Our numbers are still going up,” said manager Amy Towles. She doesn’t expect a decrease anytime soon.

Harlow agreed, saying the growing need is evident and has been a longstanding issue in the community she calls home. She recalled her own childhood of parents working hard to make life happen for herself and three siblings.

“I grew up in Baileyton, and we were poor. I mean, we were the poorest of the poor. My mom and dad worked all the time, but it was just hard with four kids, making ends meet,” she explained. After a short stint of living in Arab, she said, she felt the call to come back to the community that raised her. “This is my home. I felt like I could do the most good here.”

“She’s always doing something!” Towles exclaimed, packing mac and cheese into a box for pickup.

Harlow shared that even though she may be the face of the operation, it’s no solo endeavor; several churches, local businesses and even individuals keep the goods flowing through Parkside Outreach through donations, both physical and monetary.

Towles agreed, saying, “Everybody donates. We couldn’t survive without all the people in the community, and even people far off from the community.”

When the issue of program abuse came up, Harlow simply declared, “That’s between them and the Good Lord.” While some pantry recipients may shop around at other pantries, she said, she doesn’t mind as long as the people who sincerely need assistance get the help they need.

There is one more need at Parkside Outreach: volunteers.

“Y’all come on!” she exclaimed, saying volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks and the team at Parkside can work with all ages and skill levels.

To volunteer or for services, call 256 683-0715 or visit www.facebook.com/parksideoutreach.

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