The Gathering Community Meal

The Link hosts The Gathering Community Meal on the fourth Thursday of every month, and the idea behind the monthly meal can be found in its name.

The Link of Cullman County is planning to give away 500 meals next week during its annual Community Thanksgiving Meal, but the nonprofit’s food assistance programs continue throughout the year for anyone who needs help putting food on the table.

This month marks The Link’s annual giving campaign, and the theme for the month is “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Each week, The Link is asking a different question about how and why Cullman County residents should lend a hand to their neighbors in need. 

The week’s question is “Why should I affirm my neighbor?” and The Link is encouraging residents to keep an open mind when they are considering whether or not to help out their neighbors, said Director of Community Development Melissa Betts.

She said often people will have a preconceived notion of why others are in poverty and will make the decision not to donate or help out because they believe the same is true of every family or individual who is in need of assistance. 

“We can assume that we know the reasons why people might have ended up in the situations they are in, but we don’t really know unless we truly get in there and find out,” she said. 

A person’s choices may have put them in a bad situation, but oftentimes the actions and choices of that one person can affect their entire family and put them all in a bad situation. 

“It’s just better to not assume that we know the reasons why people might end up in poverty or in food insecurity,” she said.

Betts said the staff members at The Link believe that if everyone is able to get to know their neighbors and truly understand them and the reasons why they may be struggling, then they can find the best ways to help them get back to where they need to be.

“If you just continue to assume that they are in one situation or another, then you are really just putting off what you could be doing to really, truly change a life,” she said. 

Feeding the community

The Link hosts The Gathering Community Meal on the fourth Thursday of every month, and the idea behind the monthly meal can be found in its name. 

Betts said the community meals are meant to be a place in which everyone in the community — regardless of the background or financial status — is welcome to come and spend some time with their neighbors while enjoying a free meal provided by volunteers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the community meals since March have been drive-thru only, which is a necessary precaution but is also disappointing for everyone who is involved in the meals, Betts said. 

“We really do miss that opportunity,” she said.

The community meals are typically hosted by a church small group, nonprofit organization or a group of individuals who decided to work together to give back to their neighbors, and The Link is always welcoming to anyone who wants to host a meal or volunteer for one, Betts said. 

While the monthly community meals typically bring in around 100 people, the Community Thanksgiving Meal is planning for 500 plates to be served to the community, and the meals are being prepared by a small group from Temple Baptist Church, she said. 

“This one is a huge undertaking,” she said.

This year’s Thanksgiving meal is set for Nov. 19, and anyone who wishes to pick up their meal of traditional meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings should RSVP by calling The Link at 256-775-0028. 

Like all of the other community meals, the Thanksgiving meal will be drive-thru only, and the RSVP is required to make sure there are enough plates prepared and traffic is able to flow smoothly, Betts said.

In addition to monthly Gathering meals, The Link also hosts the Master’s Hands food pantry on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The pantry is open from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and 8:30-11:30 a.m. on Thursdays. 

The Master’s Hands pantry was originally hosted by Daystar Church before moving to The Link last year, and usually sees around 30-40 families during each three-hour period that is open, Betts said. 

With COVID-19 causing more families to seek out assistance to keep food on the table, The Link is always looking for volunteers and donations to help make sure everyone has enough to eat, she said. 

“It just seems like our shelves get cleaned out,” she said. 

Betts said The Link is part of an outreach group of food banks and food pantries in Cullman County that is led by the North Alabama Agriplex’s Rachel Dawsey, and that partnership has resulted in a better selection of food that is available to visitors to the Master’s Hands pantry.

The Agriplex received grants from the TVA and the Cullman Electric Co-op to provide fresh, local produce to local food banks this year, and that has been a welcome addition to the usual canned foods and nonperishables that are given out to the county residents who visit the food pantry, she said. 

“It’s been so beneficial to get fresh produce in the hands of our people,” Betts said. 

For anyone who needs additional food support, The Crossing food pantry has relocated to The Link’s campus, and is also open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The Link has a community resource guide featuring many of the food programs and other assistance available to county residents on its website at linkingcullman.org

Betts said The Link also worked with the Cullman County Extension Office and its agent Roberta McClellan to develop a food resource guide with End Child Hunger in Alabama. A link to ECHA’s guide to many of the food resources available in Cullman County can be found at wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral.

Tyler Hanes can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 238.

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