Hands Across Decatur
Welcome to the Chamber's Member Spotlight series where we take a moment to highlight one of our business members. Our feature company for November and December is Hands Across Decatur. We spoke with Founder and Executive Director Sue Terrell to find out more about the nonprofit organization.
What year was your organization founded and how did you get started?
“I started Hands Across Decatur in my living room in 2012. After volunteering with the Committee on Church Cooperation (CCC) and Neighborhood Christian Center (NCC) for several years, I recognized that there wasn’t really any one organization who focused solely on our unhoused population. Donors would bring stuff to my home and drop it on my doorstep. I had a spare room lined with the famous yellow and black Costco tubs.”
Describe your organization, including the history and services you provide?
“Initially, friends and I would visit the homeless camps two to three times per week taking items that we thought they would need. It didn’t take long to realize that items we thought they needed were not always what their needs were. It also didn’t take long to realize that our unhoused didn’t particularly want strangers in their camps as this is their home. It’s like leaving your own front door open and people wandering into your house uninvited.”
“In 2016, we had the opportunity to move to a small office next to Harold Coomer Evangelical and then three small offices which we used for distribution and a place for people to get out of the cold or heat during the day. In 2017, we moved to a larger building and opened a small soup kitchen when the CCC closed their soup kitchen. In 2019, we moved into a 4500-square-foot building. We expanded our soup kitchen to include not only meals for our growing homeless population but, also for those who may be living in poverty and in crisis.”
“For our homeless, we offer daily showers, distribution of gently used men’s and women’s clothes and tennis shoes/boots, necessities of daily living, toiletries, items needed for living outside, emergency food bags, use of our computers, assistance with IDs and employment assistance, medical care one day per month, hot lunch four days per week, trauma support group and most importantly, a place to come and relax off the streets without judgement. We have plans to expand with GED classes, employment preparedness, computer classes, finance classes, life skills and more, but we need additional volunteers to make that happen. We are also open as a day center for anyone in need during inclement weather. We are the first and only such center in Morgan, Limestone, Lawrence and Cullman Counties.”
How has your organization changed in the last year?
“We are seeing a continual growth in our homeless population, averaging five to ten more people per month. We are also welcoming more residents who are not homeless, yet who simply are forced daily to make a difficult choice of purchasing their medications, paying rent and/or utilities, medical care or groceries. We have gone from serving an average of 125 hot meals per month just a few years ago to an average of over 775 hot meals each month as of July. We are providing services to an average of 1,214 people each month with no end in sight to the increasing numbers.”
Describe an exciting recent highlight for your organization.
“More of our unhoused are getting jobs and some are working two jobs. While the majority are still living outdoors, couch surfing with friends or living in a hotel, it’s a step forward on the path to self-sufficiency, which is the goal.”
What's the best business advice you've been given?
“Do what you love, love what you do and your passion will be contagious to others.”