Friday, November 14, 2008

University of Alabama Teams With Cottondale Community Church

After the single largest purchase from the West Alabama Food Bank in its history, students from the University of Alabama and volunteers at Cottondale Community Church have been working frantically under the leadership of Pastor Ron Martin nearly all week for the first “CARE Day” at the church Saturday.

Denise Cleveland, the research administrator for the UA social work school, a graduate student herself and also a native of the unincorporated Cottondale area east of Tuscaloosa, Alabama said the university’s Center for Community Based Partnership provided a grant for several teams of grad students to initiate projects in various parts of Tuscaloosa County.

Before the class settled on the food drive, the class organized a community meeting attended by State Rep. Gerald Allen, a Cottondale member of the Alabama House of Representatives, County Commissioner Gary Youngblood and representatives from area churches and businesses including Pastor Ron Martin of Cottondale Community Church.

“We went over a lot of problems that the community has, like roads and sewers,” Holden said. “But we knew there was nothing we could do about sewers, so we settled on partnering with the Cottondale Community Food Pantry.”

The two-month old food pantry, a project of Pastor Ron Martin’s Cottondale Community Church, had just gotten off the ground, he said, and has served about 20 families.

“But we knew the need was much greater,” he said. “And the social work class was a perfect fit.”
By the time the students had fanned out in the community, getting donations from businesses and churches as diverse as Food World, Catfish County restaurant, Cottondale First Methodist Church, the local VFW post and even the Oasis bar, $3,500 had been raised. Most of it went to purchase discount food from the West Alabama Food Bank.

“We are expecting at least 100 families and people to show up, based on what the church has told us and the flyers we have put up all over the Cottondale area as well as the outreach the churches and social agencies have done,” Cleveland said. “For some of the families who have young children, we also have ‘CARE packages’ that include things like diapers, toothbrushes and toiletry items.”

CARE Day will end at noon, but since it is anticipated that only a fraction of the food items will be dispersed, the church’s food pantry should find its shelves well stocked for the future when people in the community find themselves in need.

“Part of our class assignment was to help create something sustainable,” Holden said. “Not to just do something and not come back. And we think getting all these various business, churches and agencies involved with the project will do that.”

Pastor Martin, whose church has about 120 members, agrees.

“This is really going to be a tremendous boost,” he said. “We started out our food pantry real small, mostly because our church is not that large,” he said. “So when the students came to us with the offer to help it was something we just couldn’t pass up.

“This will probably quadruple what we had on hand even after Saturday and it will certainly help us to continue our pantry and even expand the number of people we can serve.”