Downtown Rescue Mission lifeline for the down and out
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
The Downtown Rescue Mission in Huntsville is providing food boxes for 250-300 needy families and a hot Thanksgiving Day dinner for over 500 hungry individuals this year, according to Roger Kitchen, Jr. director of operations.
But there is a catch. Before that can happen, donations of frozen turkeys and non-perishable canned good items are needed.
"We are now reaching out to the people of Huntsville and surrounding communities and asking for their help," Kitchen said. "We need 500 turkeys to get us through the holiday season. Of that number, 300 will be distributed in the food boxes, 50-60 will be required for the Thanksgiving dinner, 50-60 for the Christmas meal and 100 for meals served during the winter months. We are asking prospective donors to help us out by taking advantage of special offers at food stores or donating us their free turkey gift vouchers."
"Building up our stock of staple food products is equally important," he added. "We can use canned or dried vegetables and fruits and nonperishable items such as cornmeal, flower, and pastas.
Donations may be dropped off at the mission's headquarters at 1411 9th Avenue. In addition, they may be placed in donation barrels located in Huntsville, Madison, Decatur and Athens or dropped off at the mission's thrift stores in Huntsville and Decatur.
Kitchen said the Thanksgiving dinner is free and open to anyone who is in need. "They come from throughout the North Alabama area and line up at the dining hall doors. No questions are asked. Volunteers take their orders and have a tray of food ready for them when they are seated." he pointed out. Meals are served from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2 to 4:30 p.m.
More than 250 volunteers take part in the project, according to Kitchen. "They come from all walks of life. We've had elected officials, Army generals and company CEO's help out. Many of them come early to help decorate and stay all day. To see the smiles on their faces is a special treat," he said.
Operating in its 30th year, the mission is the state's largest. It has served over 200,000 meals and provided 60,000 beds for the homeless so far this year.
"It's not uncommon for us to have 150 people in our dormitories on a cold winter night, and we have had as many as 235," said Keith Overholt, director of operations. "When the nighttime temperature drops to 45 degrees, it is our policy to let anyone who wants to come in for the night to do so. We ask the police department to help us bring in the homeless population when the overnight temperature is going to drop below freezing."
The mission will be able to accommodate even more overnight stays in the near future when the old thrift store building on campus is renovated and converted into a dormitory, according to Kitchen.
The mission also provides a self-help residency program for individuals who have special needs. "Operation Discovery" is an 18-month addiction recovery program aimed at getting people out of the gutter and back on their feet. About 75 men and women are currently enrolled.
"We are a faith-based organization," said Overholt. "That means everyone who comes through here is going to hear the gospel message" Religion especially plays a key role in the resident recovery program. As a starter, enrollees are expected to complete a seven-part discipleship-training program over a ten-week period. They also are assigned work-related responsibilities. Some cook and help operate the kitchen, others handle repairs and maintenance and still others do clerical work.
"One of our goals is to own and operate a farm," said Kitchen. "This would enable us to remove our residents from an environment filled with crime and drug and create an income-producing source for the mission at the same time."
The mission operates on a $2 million annual budget. About 85 percent of its revenue comes from individual donations. It receives nothing from government sources.
Kitchen pointed out that the mission is also conducting a food drive for needy families during the Christmas season. Donation barrels are in place at several locations in the area. In addition, any business or church is invited to request a barrel by calling the mission at 256-536-2441.