The pre-Christmas tornado outbreak that ravaged our neighboring communities in Mississippi and Tennessee inevitably brought back memories of April 27, 2011 and the storms that changed the lives of so many in Franklin, Lawrence and Limestone Counties. In the midst of the devastation, events like these tend to bring out the best in so many folks.
In 2011, for example, we were flooded with calls from our Bank Independent and Interstate Billing Service team members asking how they could help. We did what we could as quickly as we could--we collected and delivered food and supplies and volunteered where and when we could. The Bank waived ATM fees for non-customers and kept our Moulton branch open for days with generators and employees who volunteered to work. Like so many others, we just wanted to do our part.
One thing that we realized, though, is that we needed an organized volunteer program at Bank Independent. Don't get me wrong--we pull together during a crisis like nobody's business; it may sound corny, but times like those are when you see teamwork at its best. But we wanted to give back year-round, both as an organization and as individuals, and not just during emergencies.
So that's how our Helping Hands program was born. Here's how it's grown:
- From the start, we provided each employee (part-time and full-time) with eight hours of paid volunteer time per year; they can even donate their hours to another employee.
- Next, we spread the word that we had hardworking volunteers available for "hire" (at no charge of course) for charitable organization or community efforts.
- Later, we expanded upon our very successful Joy of Sharing holiday toy drive to create our four quarterly Share drives: Shelter Share, Food Share, School Share and Toy Share (the new name for Joy of Sharing).
Since 2011, we've worked nearly 3000 hours in all kinds of volunteer efforts. Our Helping Hands volunteers have:
- Sorted items and stocked shelves at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, Loaves & Fishes, Sidney's Safe! Foundation and the Committee on Church Cooperation;
- Cleaned cages, walked and washed dogs, and fed and loved animals of all kinds at animal shelters in Decatur, Florence, Tuscumbia and Hartselle;
- Raked leaves, picked up sticks and cleaned the park at the Oakville Indian Mounds in Lawrence County;
- Greeted folks and manned booths at festivals and events across our seven counties;
- Hammered and nailed at Habitat for Humanity houses;
- Visited charitable organizations served by the United Way organizations in the Shoals and Morgan County, and delivered Meals on Wheels; and
- Many more...we're game for anything that helps our neighbors! (If you'd like to request Helping Hands volunteer assistance, please fill out a request online).
Through our Share Drives, we've collected and delivered over 41,000 items that we've given to local organizations to deliver to animals and families right here in the seven counties Bank Independent serves. Our fifth annual 2015 Toy Share drive proved to be our largest yet, garnering nearly 5000 toys!! That total eclipsed our 2014 total of 3500 toys. It's just simply incredible.
We could not achieve these numbers without the generosity of our friends and neighbors throughout northwest Alabama and beyond; we could not volunteer for these charitable organizations without the hard work and dedication of those who give up their own time to establish and manage them daily; we could not distribute these gifts without the assistance of our local charitable partners who work directly with families in need. I have no doubt at all that the folks who were affected by the holiday storms are being inundated with offers of help during their time of need.
We live in an amazing place among incredibly generous people, and I'm proud to call it home. Thank you to everyone who volunteers, donates, and cares for their neighbors. Our world is a better place because of you.