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Athens agencies find new home
Limestone County Commission lends hand to Food Bank, Crisis Services

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — A father whose daughter was raped and who doesn’t know how to help her cope.

A mother desperate to take her children and leave her abusive husband.

A senior citizen who cannot buy groceries and afford her medication.

These are the people who seek help from The Food Bank and the Crisis Services of North Alabama. The Food Bank helped more than 2,600 people in the past 10 months. The center sees 50 to 80 clients a month. Yet, both agencies have battled bouts of homelessness themselves.

The most recent homeless scare came two weeks ago, when the agencies learned from the city of Athens that Athens City Schools are going to turn their current home into a bus garage. The city has let the agencies use the former Street Department facility on Armory Street rent free but told them it was not a permanent situation.

That proved true when the city opted to lease the site to the school system for its bus garage. Mayor Dan Williams said he was looking for a new site for the agencies but had nothing definite.

“It came as a bolt out of the sky,” said Diane Gilbert, who operates the crisis center. “I guess I would have worked out of my car and met clients at McDonald’s or the hallways of the courthouse, although that’s not conducive to getting someone to open up.”

Gilbert won’t have to take such extreme measures.

Jefferson Street home

On Thursday, Limestone County Commission Chairman David Seibert informed the two agencies they can use a building next to Dubb’s Burgers on Jefferson Street. The county is leasing the building for $1,000 a month. Seibert said the county won’t charge rent.

Seibert envisions the facility eventually becoming a family resource center.

“Our clients have a hard enough time getting around to get the services they need, so if they could go to one place, that would be great,” Gilbert said.

Seibert said the only two agencies moving in in May are The Food Banks and crisis center, but possible future agencies include Child Care Management, which helps poor parents afford day care, and Legal Services.

The site should give The Food Bank enough room to store goods, said volunteer Beth Clement, who said she was upset at the thought of losing the current location.

“Our volunteers and youth and church groups spent hundreds of hours fixing this place up and getting it wired for computers,” Clement said.

Volunteer Donna Pittman said the facility had only one toilet when the agencies moved in, and there was grease and grime on the walls and floors. United Way spent $2,500, she said, on paint and other supplies.

“I’m just glad we have a place to go because our biggest fundraiser is coming up, and I don’t know where we would have kept the food,” Clement said.

May food drive

The U.S. Postal Service canned food drive is May 12 and brings in between 12,000 and 17,000 pounds of food for The Food Bank each year. Volunteers sort the food into bags designed to feed a family of four for a week.

Although The Food Bank now has a home, it needs a refrigerator. The agency receives some perishable items that it can give to families while they are at the office. For example, Starbucks donates its day-old pastries, but the agency needs to store them in a refrigerator. Donators also give bags of potatoes and onions that Clement said would last longer if refrigerated.

Despite this and other needs, Clement and the other volunteers are happy to have a place to move into once evicted.

“I’ve got to thank the county for being proactive with this for both agencies,” Gilbert said. “For my clients, this will give them a place to feel safe and have confidentiality. Sometimes it takes a woman seven to 10 times to leave an abusive situation, and we need to make it easier for her to take that step.

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