Nonprofits reach out to others in area
by CHRIS NORWOOD
Samaritan House president Charles Montgomery and volunteer Bobbie Wiggins folding and putting away clothing donated to the organization. They also accept canned food and other necessities to families in need.
TALLADEGA — During difficult economic times, such as now, it becomes ever more important to have people willing to reach out to neighbors in need. There are many such organizations, but two in Talladega stand out in particular.

They are Samaritan House and Isaiah House.

According to President Charles Montgomery, Samaritan House was established by the Talladega Ministerial Association around 1988 to “meet the food, clothing and some financial needs. We help people with things like utilities, medicines, things like that.”

The organization designates a set amount for each category. “Say we decide we’ll help someone behind on their power bill for up to $50. They bring in the disconnect notice, pay down what they can, and we write a check for $50 to Alabama Power, not to the person.”

They also help provide transportation to doctor and dentist appointments, and help out with prescriptions. “If they can’t afford all of them, we’ll find out which ones are most important, things like that. We watch the money, make sure it gets spent correctly, and we never write checks to the individuals,” Montgomery said.

Samaritan House uses government issued guidelines in determining who to help, based on household income and number of people in the house. Since Montgomery has been involved, he said only one person had ever been turned away.

Samaritan House got a $1,000 appropriation from the city of Talladega for the first time this year. Otherwise, they are entirely funded by churches and individuals. Although the organization has served, and continues to serve, Lincoln and Munford residents, residents of both places now have other options closer to home. This, in combination with the fact that many people simply have less to give now, has hurt the amount of aid they have been able to give.

“We take what we get, divvy it up between food, medication and utilities, and stretch it as far as we can. We do food drives with the schools, and the Junior Welfare League and local Girl Scout Troops donate items, too. We had an event at the Ritz Theater where admission was a canned food item. And we get a portion of the post office’s annual food drive. For the rest, we go to the Community Food Bank in Birmingham and probably get 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of food per month. It feels good to help. We keep records of the people we help, and some of them have been regulars for 10 or 15 years. I don’t know where they go when they use up what we give them. And some weeks, we’ve got 15 to 20 new people coming in for help. We get six or seven on an average day, and we’ve got families that carpool regularly. We handle more groceries than anything else.”

The food is distributed in the building that once housed Chapel’s Store on Allison Mill Road. They are open from 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Drop-offs are acceptable, but it is better to make donations during regular hours to make sure someone gets it, and it doesn’t end up stolen.

“We’re overrun with clothing right now,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got limited storage space, so we have Hannah Home come and pick up the extra every Tuesday. There is a problem with toys, furniture and other large items, too. We want to be able to help with that, but we just don’t have a lot of room. So we end up giving most of that to other donations, where it’s still going to help someone, but we don’t have to worry about it taking up too much space. If we get particularly nice clothing, we’ll keep some of that and send the rest to Hannah Home.”

They also work with other non-profits, including a recent Christmas toy drive with FIRST Family Service that raised $1,800. “We’ve done that the last two or three years. The board members do all the shopping and wrapping, and FIRST gets them to the families that need them.

The other organization in town with similar goals is the Isaiah House on Ward Avenue founded by 80-year-old Thelma Dundee in 2003. She first came up with the idea in 1976, “after realizing how humiliating it can be to have to ask someone for food or clothes. She set about coming up with an alternative after retiring from Lutheran Social Services.

Dundee says she is primarily supported by 20 local churches (and an annual appropriation from the city), and serves up to 1,000 families per month, whether they need food, clothing, furniture or other basic necessities.

And she does not particularly like talking about the work she does. “It’s not me,” she said. “It’s God working through me, and I want to give him the glory for blessing the community. I know God has ordained this. We’re here to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless. Please keep us in your prayers.”

Contact Chris Norwood at cnorwood@dailyhome.com.

© 2012