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The Advance Project Profile: Upper Sand Mountain Parish - Alabama

 

Groups of fifth graders spend President's Day each year helping to sort seeds for the Gardens of Plenty Program. Families receive 20 varieties of seeds to plant to encourage self-sufficiency during the growing season and beyond.
Groups of fifth graders spend President's Day each year helping to sort seeds for the Gardens of Plenty Program. Families receive 20 varieties of seeds to plant to encourage self-sufficiency during the growing season and beyond.
COURTESY UPPER SAND MOUNTAIN PARISH

Economic downturns have hit many families who live in the northeast corner of Alabama hard.

"These families have had to take low paying jobs, often 45-60 miles away, yet still cannot make ends meet," says Tayna Rains, director of Upper Sand Mountain Parish Family Services (Advance #722760).

The family center is a cooperative effort of eight United Methodist churches in two Alabama counties. Service teams come to the parish throughout the year to help with ongoing ministries.

The center annually provides family care and emergency service to about 4,500 residents. The parish provides food and school supplies, helps pay for prescriptions and utilities, provides a toy store at Christmas and operates Gardens of Plenty — a program that provides free seeds and fertilizer for families to grow their own gardens. The center also houses a storm shelter.

"Our families are hardworking, committed to staying on the land of their families and often find it very difficult to seek help," says Rains, one of three paid staff members. "Simple problems like missing a day from work due to a sick child or having a shortened paycheck due to a holiday can put families in an economic crisis."

The center operates "on a point system that allows choice of items by the family rather than items being handed out to individuals," she adds. "We want them to know they are not beggars, but rather children of God when they come to us."

Mission Service Team members can vegetable soup in the industrial cannery operated the Upper Sand Mountain Parish. Sales of the soup and green tomato products help support the parish’s ministries.
Mission Service Team members can vegetable soup in the industrial cannery operated the Upper Sand Mountain Parish. Sales of the soup and green tomato products help support the parish’s ministries.
COURTESY UPPER SAND MOUNTAIN PARISH

Each year, the parish partners with other churches to build Heart and Hand Houses for low-income families. The 1,000-square-foot, passive solar houses are sold for the cost of materials. There is no charge for labor.

"To date, 46 houses have been built and 25 families now own their own homes," says Rains. "These homes greatly improve (their) quality of life. Some were previously living with dirt floors." Eighty percent of the families placed in the homes have been at or below poverty level income.

A lifelong member of the parish, Rains says the family center also helped create four local thrift stores, which provide employment opportunities and allow families to buy affordable clothing and other items close to home.

Heather Peck Travis