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The Help Center and Family-to-Family

December 20, 2012

Alabama – Monday, December 17

It didn’t take me long to cross into Alabama from my campground (and it was the nicest state border sign I’ve seen yet – probably because it was on national park property!), and I got busy right away. Shortly after getting into Alabama I noticed a big park that looked very promising for walking along the Tennessee River. But first I researched some donation possibilities in the town of Florence, and saw there was a food pantry called The Help Center, and it was open til noon. I called them to see what they might need, and they said a variety of frozen chicken would be wonderful. Then I had to find a grocery store. I was unable to find the Kroger even with my GPS, so next I headed for either Meijer or Walmart which looked close together. But on the way there, I saw yet another store, Belle Foods, and I simply stopped there to get the chicken. And when I walked in, I saw they were doing a Family-to-Family Food Drive with the help of a local church. They had shelves full of brown paper bags that shoppers could buy for $5 and donate for the church to distribute. I felt like there was a reason I couldn’t find the first grocery store, and saw this one before I got to the others. But, that second donation would have to wait because I was under a time deadline to shop and get to the food pantry on the other side of town before it closed for the day. I went to the freezer aisle and got a variety of frozen chicken – some chicken strips and nuggets, chicken tenders, seasoned unbreaded chicken breasts etc. $56 of frozen chicken doesn’t fill up the cart like many of my other shopping trips! I checked out and made it back to The Help Center about 10 minutes before they closed. They had a waiting room which still had people who were hoping to get food, and then I was able to go in the room where food is sorted and pre-packed in shopping bags to be distributed according to family size. They seemed to be pretty busy – there were several volunteers working in both the front area and the food packing area. They were happy for the chicken and they showed me how empty the freezer had been.

The Help Center was near the nice downtown district, so Tula and I got out and walked a little over 2 miles. I passed a cafe called FloBama and went back for some barbecue after I’d put Tula back in the car. Then I was ready for more walking and we set off in another direction out of town. We went through another little historic area (there was a museum called The Pope’s Tavern – must be a story behind that name!) then out into a residential district (and passed the house where the engineer of the Panama Canal lived), and that led us to the campus of University of North Alabama, which was very inviting. We walked all around campus, and I saw that their mascot was a lion, but I did not expect to come across a lion habitat with 2 lions in it! They take their mascots seriously here! They were named Leo III and Una. There were double fences around their habitat, but I did not go into the viewing areas because of Tula – Una seemed interested in her even from a distance. We did not linger! While walking back toward town, I saw a lot of parking signs for Una visitors, and wondered what was so special about that particular lion – until it occurred to me that Una was University of North Alabama – ha!

After that I went back to Belle Foods to fill up my cart with 11 of the $5 food bag donations. The check-out person told me each of the bags contained the same things – tomato soup and crackers, tuna, rice, and mac and cheese. Being able to fill up a cart with donations like this is one of the desires that motivated this aspect of my journey – sometimes while grocery shopping at home, there would be Boy Scouts passing out lists of items that our local food pantry needed, and I would always get a couple things to donate, but I would always wish I could just go in and fill up the cart with some of everything on those lists – and now I’m able to do that!

Then I started to head back to the pretty park I had first seen in the morning so that I could walk by the river, but we passed another pretty area of town (Florence has lots of parks) and got out for another mile and a half. Lots of the grass is still green down here, and there are still flowers blooming – kind of a treat to see in mid-December! It was already beginning to get dark (on the eastern edge of the central time zone, it seems to be nearly dark by 4:30!) and I finally got back to McFarland Park, and they also had a nice campground in the pines by the Tennessee River, so I decided to camp again. We quickly finished off the walking for the day, then I headed to Panera to do some computer work since I’d been camping, and to enjoy a salad. It was noticeably chillier out when I headed back to the campground, but I stayed cozy with the sleeping bag, and put blankets over Tula.
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