Aug. 5—The Decatur Salvation Army unit's new transitional housing and its switch to a client choice food bank are making progress as the nonprofit agency prepares for a fundraising bicycle ride that will help support both programs.
The Salvation Army changed its emphasis from offering an overnight shelter to providing the transitional housing program that moved in its first family in November. The agency renovated two apartment buildings on its property at Austinville Road Southwest near 14th Street and has enough units for seven families.
Capt. LeAnna Marion of Decatur's Salvation Army unit said there are currently five families living in the housing with a total of 16 people.
"The type of family that we're catering to the most has been single moms," she said. "But we've had grandmas with grandkids, we've had single dads, we've had whole families."
Marion said the transitional housing is a nine-month program that helps people get back on their feet. The Salvation Army also assists with items from its food pantry and helps families learn how to make and keep a budget and how to set and achieve goals.
"We have had four families move out into their own housing successfully," Marion said. "We have three families right now who are looking for apartments to move out. ... There's not a lot of affordable housing available at this time; a lot of waiting lists."
The Salvation Army used to have a food bank where people were given bags of food. LeAnna's husband, Capt. Thomas Marion, said they have switched to a grocery store style program where people are allowed to pick out their own items with the help of someone with the Salvation Army.
Thomas said with the new method, "we're not giving them stuff they won't eat or won't use." The method is called client choice and the organization switched to it in July.
LeAnna said the organization plans to have a Salvation Army social worker help people who visit the food pantry learn to budget.
"It's our goal to have ... now that the pantry is fully set-up and running and good, is to have prices for things on the shelves. Once they have shopped, go over the selections that they made so that they can budget," LeAnna said.
The food pantry is open Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon. LeAnna said in July they served 41 families, which included 79 people. Before switching to client's choice, they served 34 families in June and 30 families in May.
Another program gaining momentum at the Salvation Army's Decatur unit is its thrift store. It closed in September due to staffing shortages but reopened after renovations in March.
"The family store is doing better than it was before it closed, but we're still short staffed and trying to hire," LeAnna said. "It's not to the level where we would like it to be because we don't have enough staff."
LeAnna said the store funds around 25% of the Decatur unit's annual budget. Other money comes from Christmas kettle collections, mail campaigns, the annual Red Kettle Ride for bicyclists, United Way and donations.
This year's Red Kettle Ride fundraiser will be on Sept. 3. Organizers hope it has a more robust response than it did in 2021.
"Last year we only raised $9,000; usually it's around $20,000," Thomas said. "Later in the year sponsorships were down, we didn't have as many riders."
Thomas said the goal this year is to raise $25,000 and results from sponsorships are already ahead of a year ago.
"It (the money) helps us keep our food pantry open and it helps us keep our transitional housing open to help homeless families. So, the mother, the father or whoever the parent is, with their kids have a safe place to be to get back on their feet and be able to get back to some normalcy in their life," he said.
The Red Kettle Ride had 33 bicyclists in 2021, which was lower than usual. The ride took place on Oct. 30 last year, so Thomas said they are moving up the date to try to interest more riders. Organizers hope to have at least 100 riders.
There will be four different rides: a family ride of up to 14 miles on the Bill Sims Bike Trail and courses of 30, 64 and 100 miles. To register go to bikesignup.com/Race/AL/Decatur/RedKettleRide.
In another program update, LeAnna said it has "not gotten a long-term plan to reopen the emergency shelter, but we do have a plan to open for cold weather this year."
LeAnna said whether the warming center will be open overnight or just during the day depends on the type of staff they can acquire.
"If we're only doing volunteers and we're not able to hire anyone, then it would only be probably a daytime thing," she said. "If we're able to hire for cold weather, then we will look at doing the overnight."
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