Through feeding, encouraging participation in school, providing financial support and much more, a local organization has been helping families in the Gardere community thrive for 20 years.
Opening Doors, a Louisiana nonprofit corporation, was launched in March 2001 by members of St. John’s United Methodist Church. The board includes a resident of the Gardere area as well as a member of the mayor’s staff. The nonprofit relies on volunteers to operate. Don Fuller was the organization’s first president, and Sandra Kuykendall is the current chairperson of the board.
“Members of the church wanted to expand their outreach and thought it would be best to do that through a nonprofit,” Kuykendall says.
Its nonprofit status allows Opening Doors to apply for grants to fund its work, and this year, the group received $15,000 from the Capital Area United Way as part of its ALICE Grant Funding Opportunity. Opening Doors used the funds for its Families in Transition program.
“We spent every dime and helped 21 individual families,” Kuykendall says. “A lot of them were elderly people over 65, and many of them simply had no jobs.” Most of the payments went for utility bills, a medical bill, auto insurance and rent, and each family could receive up to $1,000.
In addition to providing direct financial assistance through the ALICE grant, Opening Doors has been able to connect community members in need with other resources, such as Catholic Charities for families recovering from an April flood and federal rental assistance programs.
The organization’s largest program is The Shepherd’s Market, a client-choice food pantry that has operated since 2012 and serves more than 400 families per month. Each December, 500
complete holiday dinners are distributed at its annual Great Turkey Giveaway. During the pandemic, the pantry operates in a drive-thru method.
“The pandemic has brought us many new families seeking food,” says Theresa Sandifer, the pantry’s director. “We do not turn away anyone in need.”
Holiday Superstore was Opening Doors’ first outreach program, and
it continues annually.
“They wanted to develop a way of giving the kids gifts, but they didn’t want to just do it as ‘here it is’ and hand it to them,” Kuykendall says.
Parents with children at Charlie Thomas Head Start are able to earn points toward holiday gifts through engagement, attendance and volunteering. During spring semesters, parents earn gift cards through a recognition program encouraging volunteering at the school.
Another early project for Opening Doors was its annual summer art camp. Art from that effort is still on public display around the area.
“The art is something that’s out there and it’s quite outstanding,” Kuykendall says. “We’d like to try to do some more of that in the future.”
Financial literacy is another focus area for Opening Doors, and they have offered classes, provided volunteers for the Jobs for Life program, and annually offer free VITA tax preparation. Kuykendall says she would love to expand financial literacy to youth. “Maybe as they get older they will be able to handle their money in a better way and be wise with the things that they do,” she says.
Opening Doors continues to make its mark on the community, and Kuykendall hopes to recruit more volunteers. “We’re simply trying to expand and get more involved in the Gardere area,” Kuykendall says. “We’re always looking for people to get involved with Opening Doors as well as come in with new ideas.”
For more information, visit openingdoorsbr.org.