Leeds Outreach gears up for the holidays

Leeds Outreach volunteers Barbara Carney, Beverly Riddlesperger and John Cater prepare for Thanksgiving. Photo by Dona Bonnett.

By Dona Bonnett, Special to the Leeds Tribune

Leeds Outreach is gearing up for the holidays as Thanksgiving fast approaches, with plans to give extra food to families in need during the Thanksgiving holiday season.

They are also wrapping up their Christmas for Kids applications and will be serving approximately 150 children this year. Once again, they are still looking for sponsors to make children’s Christmas wishes come true.

Leeds Outreach helps needy families in Leeds with food, utilities, prescription medicine, school supplies and Christmas needs. The outreach is not a government agency, but they are a nonprofit Christian organization operated solely by volunteers. Leeds Outreach has been around for years. It was formerly known as Leeds Welfare Cooperative and was established in 1994 by four Leeds pastors who wanted to provide assistance to people throughout the community in one central place rather than allowing the same people to solicit support from all the area churches and abuse the system.

Area churches, local businesses and individuals pledge monthly, quarterly or annually or give one-time gifts with money or food items to provide support. These organizations and individuals also provide much needed volunteers on a regular basis. Men and women are needed to provide all types of assistance from lifting heavy boxes to organizing incoming food in the food pantry, preparing boxes of food for distribution, meeting with incoming clients, working in the office and more.

Barbara Higginbotham has volunteered with Leeds Outreach for 18 years. When she retired from Social Security after 36 years of government service, she wanted to do something worthwhile with her free time. Higginbotham came to Leeds Outreach and felt needed. She served as the director for eight or nine years and stepped down from that role due to health problems but is still an avid volunteer.

“I have learned to love so many people that have come through this organization that are needy and it touches your heart when helping others,” Higginbotham said.

Marlyn Strong, another volunteer, has worked with Leeds Outreach for 10 years. What brought her here after retirement was that she felt she was “no longer any good to anybody.”

“I just sat in a chair at home with my dog for a year and thought, what have I done?” Strong said.

Her daughter worked with Bellsouth and had volunteered with the outreach, so she encouraged Marlyn to get out and volunteer, too. Higginbotham sent word to her that when she was ready, Leeds Outreach could really use her. Now, Marlyn looks back at how rewarding it has been to volunteer with the outreach and build relationships with so many kind people who are struggling to feed their family. The elderly are also having a hard time and many of them are grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

Other regular volunteers include John Cater and Barbara Carney. Carter is retired from the Birmingham City Schools and loves computers. He keeps the Excel records that include recording stats for the food bank each month. He shared that LO needs other regular volunteers who are computer savvy, knows how to use Excel and likes to work on the computer. Carney moved from Connecticut three years ago and immediately plugged in. She does a little of everything, including working in the office, working with clients and works on Tuesdays with the team to make sure food gets out on time to their clients.

Beverly Riddlesperger is the Office Manager and Treasurer on the Board of Directors. She has worked in different jobs over a period of time, depending upon the need. Beverly’s heartbeat is special programs that include Christmas for Kids and school supplies.

“We actually need year-round volunteers to work in many different capacities and not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Riddlesperger said.

Regular volunteers work at the outreach on a rotating schedule. Office hours are Monday through Thursday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and their office is located in the Leeds Civic Center building at 1000 Park Drive.

Last year alone, LO provided assistance for over 3,000 people in the Leeds area. Since they have no paid staff, rent or other bills, 100 percent donations go directly to assisting hurting people throughout the community.

Since 2011, Leeds Outreach has provided $278,328 in financial assistance. 2018 is already ahead of previous years with $31,000 in medical, utilities and gas vouchers, $10,000 in school supplies and $7,000 in Christmas, in addition to sponsors who provide assistance over and beyond those numbers.

One need in particular that LO has right now is for gifts that appeal to 15-18 year olds. They receive a lot of gifts for 2-14 year olds, but they really need gift items such as headphones, makeup kits, GameStop gift cards, book store gift cards, etc. for the older teenagers. They try to keep some toys and gifts on hand in various age ranges for families who come in after the Christmas for Kids adoption deadline so they can help them put together a few things for those children, too.

If you are interested in adopting a child for Christmas, assist with other types of donations or volunteer to be a part of helping families in need, contact Beverly Riddlesperger at (205) 699-7291 or leedsoutreach@gmail.com.

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