Here for the People
By Charlie Foster
“We’re here for the people. That’s why we work, and we love it. The people are what matter,” the receptionist reflected.
And that’s the most important value of McLennan County Hunger Coalition (MCHC).
“We see a lot of people come through here. A lot of families and individuals come in here and use our programs,” said Linda Parker, receptionist for MCHC and Caritas. “They come in here to get assistance. If they don’t have the money to get food or get the things they need from the store, they come here to us, and we love to work with those people.”
The purpose of MCHC is to assist the citizens of McLennan County and the surrounding areas with government funding food benefits. Some of these benefits include SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and the Caritas food pantry.
But the underlying purpose of being there, says Parker, is to get to know the people.
“My neighbor across the street uses our services. She comes in here every other month, and I got to know her through living near her and seeing her here,” Parker said.
“We’ve developed a relationship,” she continued. “Now we carpool. She takes my grandson and her niece to school, and I pick them up every day. I value our relationship, and I’m so glad I met her here.”
But those relationships are also valued on the client end, as well.
April Satler has used the services of MCHC and Caritas since she was a little kid.
“I would come here with my older sister when I was real young,” she said. “I came here because I know it, and I used to work here, too. This is a good place to get help. I know the people that work here, like Ms. Parker. She treats everyone with respect, like family. Everyone here does, and that’s why I like it here.”
Gladdys Harris of Itasca has the similar reaction to the people of MCHC and Caritas.
“I used to come here with my church to serve other people, but now I come here for myself occasionally.”
Harris, 73, feels comfortable when she works with the people at MCHC and Caritas.
“I associate this place [MCHC and Caritas] with a good place,” she said.
Satler, 26, feels the same and advises people to come here.
“If people need help, this is a good place to come,” she said. “A lot of us already know about it, but some people just don’t have a clue. This is where you need to be to get help.”
“You become a family when you get to know the people here, and that’s what’s important,” Parker concluded. “My advice to those in need is to search the Bible and look to God for your answers. But if you can’t do that and He points you here, we want to change a life and make a difference for you.”
BU helps MCHC, steps out of Baylor bubble
By Caitlin Giddens
It’s no secret there is a separation between Baylor University and Waco. While Pat Neff radiates across the interstate, nearly 30 percent of Wacoans live below the poverty line. Baylor students and faculty hope to bridge this gap by working with McLennan County Hunger Coalition (MCHC) and partner organizations.
MCHC collaborates with local pantries, businesses, congregations, food producers and individuals to provide food security across Central Texas. As a coalition, MCHC relies on communication among other nonprofits. Act Locally Waco, a website created by Baylor Director of Continuous Improvement Ashley Thornton, serves as a bulletin board for nonprofit and volunteer organizations. Each Friday, Thornton sends an email to 600 subscribers, updating them on the current volunteer opportunities. Thornton may be an unconventional volunteer, but her efforts are essential for MCHC’s outreach.
“I don’t volunteer at the food panty or package up food, but I run the website that provides information to these organizations,” Thornton said. “Act Locally isn’t a solution – it’s a stirring pot. It’s encouraging because the email shows you’re not alone. There are people who care about nonprofits.”
When Thornton moved to Waco, she struggled to find a volunteer program that fit with her schedule. But she felt called to step outside of the Baylor bubble and volunteer for the Waco community.
“I found there aren’t volunteer opportunities for people who working during the day,” Thornton said. “Some of us have different gifts and there is a place for that. When I moved here, I would go to Hunger Coalition meetings and education meetings and expected to find the same people. They weren’t the same people, even though these are related issues. If we are going to move forward, we need to connect the [nonprofit] circles. “
Act Locally fuses information for nonprofits across Central Texas, but it is especially vital for MCHC’s constant communication with its partners. MCHC’s Program Director for Helpings Esther Morales met Thornton before she created Act Locally. They’ve worked together since Act Locally was established in 2008.
“Act Locally allows Hunger Coalition to use the website for referrals and collaborate with other fighting hunger agencies in our community,” Morales said. “I believe all volunteers are important to the nonprofit sector. They are the bloodline to making any project become a reality.”
Baylor’s assistance with MCHC and SNAP
In addition to providing food security, MCHC created SNAP Outreach, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP, which is housed in Caritas, helps people file for federal benefits and food stamps. As a public relations intern for Caritas, Baylor senior Kaitlin Ramby has been exposed to poverty in Waco. Ramby has stepped out of the Baylor bubble to witness MCHC’s partnership with Caritas to run SNAP.
“I think a lot of Baylor students realize there is a need in Waco, but since they aren’t up close and personal with it they don’t understand the gravity of Waco’s situation,” Ramby said. “At Caritas, I see tons of families come in who don’t have food to put on the table. The Caritas building is almost never empty.”
Following the explosion in West on April 17, MCHC, Caritas and other nonprofits provided help to Waco’s neighbor community.
“Caritas immediately updated the Facebook page to alert people that we were taking donations of food, clothing, furniture and other items for relief in West,” Ramby said. “The donations to West became so overwhelming, we actually had to turn some of it away. It was great to see the organization I work for making such an effort.”
Baylor students and faculty strive to bridge the gap between the university and city. But MCHC will continue to need help when students leave for summer. Morales stressed the need for hunger relief in the hotter months.
“We need volunteers to help with and summer food drives, as well as outreach information and neighborhood walks,” Morales said. “I always encourage those interested in volunteering to attend one of MCHS’s monthly meetings.”
Making a Difference and Giving Back
By Kasey McMillian
The McLennan County Hunger Coalition is housed by the new facility of Caritas and even though they are separate organizations, they are both working towards the same goal of feeding the needy. “We’re working hand in hand for the same thing and it’s to help the less fortunate,” Ericka Swain, the pantry manager for Caritas, said.
“I think it’s a comfort for the clients to come in and see a newly renovated and cleaner facility because it doesn’t feel good to have to go to a place to get help that’s in bad condition and now here, it’s a professional environment,” Swain said. Caritas and the Hunger Coalition have been successful over the past years but the new facility insures more opportunity to expand the program to more clients in need.
Caritas and the Hunger Coalition have similar goals of:
-having more partnerships with agencies
-having more outreaches within the community
-sending in the client’s application completed to eliminate a lot of the case workers job or steps at the health and human services office
-getting some medical professional to come and share their expertise
-coming up with money for more grants
Working for Caritas, Ericka Swain is the pantry manager and she is in charge of managing volunteers and workers, making sure food is stocked and organized in the pantry in a timely manner, preparing food for clients, and makes sure the warehouse is delivering enough food regularly to Caritas. Caritas pantry also gives out diapers, hygiene products, and also cleaning products. “The most rewarding part [it happens at least once a day] is the joy in a client’s eyes when we come to them with the list of things that they’ve asked for whether it’s diapers for food or if they need some soap or whatever they needed,” Swain said. “It’s just the satisfying gratitude that you get for smalls things that people take for granite every day. “
Over the years, “Spring onto Summer” has been a large event for both Caritas the Hunger Coalition and helps benefit families during the summer while their children are home from school and aren’t provided with meals. Waco Independent School District has partnered with the Hunger Coalition for food drives, the Child Nutrition Services with the Texas Stop Hunger Golf Tournament and the homeless connect with veterans and with other agencies at the Convention Center.
“Something that the board officers [of the Hunger Coalition] are looking for in 2013-2014 is coming up with some great ideas for fundraisers and were venturing and looking into it,” Esther Morales, program director for the SNAP outreach programs, said. “We need something that’s gonna catch people’s attention and to support on the issues that we fill that were making a difference in the community.”
Working with the Hunger Coalition, Esther Morales’s job helps with a federal benefits program called SNAP; formally known as Food Stamps is the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. It provides monthly funding for people that need help paying for groceries.
SNAP was established with Caritas because they noticed the incline of people coming in more weekly instead of monthly and then realized people were not utilizing the federal benefits program. Therefore, by having this program there in the new facility, employees are doing all the work, filling out applications, organizing documents and translating for clients who have a hard time reading and writing in English. This facility has impacted the growth of both organizations and because of the helpful environment the clients in the office has inclined.
“I am primarily I am responsible first and foremost to make sure we’re doing everything possible to encourage people and families and individuals to get educated on the benefits for applying for SNAP benefits, that’s my primary role,” Morales said. “But through the years it has expanded into the direction of an Executive director role, because I also write grants to sustain the program through funding for the helpings and then I’ll write grants to sustain some of the summer meal programs. I also have written grants for Waco ISD and backpack program when it first initiated through Texas Department of Development Culture.”
Both employees, Esther Morales and Ericka Swain relied on food stamps during their life and they understand the importance of what Caritas and the Hunger Coalition are trying to do within the community.
“I just want to make sure that we get to a point to where our community and our children and our children’s children and our neighbors and friends, that we all are living a healthier life,” Morales said.
And both organizations have great ideas on how to expand for the future together and separately to make their organizations bigger and better than they already are now.
“I would like to see more clients come in because I believe there’s more people out there that need help and outreach in the community because we’ve got this new facility,” Swain said. “There’s so much more we can do then just feed, there are so many other needs and I think that we need to take advantage of that.”
Each year, one week before Thanksgiving, National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. During this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness.
This year the events for Waco’s Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week are as follows:
Sunday November 11th
The week of awareness begins at the Church Under the Bridge (I-35 and S. 4th Street) at 11:00 a.m. Join a diverse crowd in praise and worship together.
Monday November 12th
Join our letter writing and advocacy efforts at Common Grounds (1123 South 8th), The World Cup Café (1321 North 15th) and the Baylor Chapel from 9:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. We will be writing to our local, state and national governmental leaders expressing our concern and asking them not to cut spending for important hunger, shelter, and poverty legislation, as well as encouraging them to act on behalf of those living in poverty.
Wednesday November 14th
Join us for dinner and a movie. Come out to the Jubilee Theatre (1319 N. 15th St.) at 7:00 p.m. to watch the film, “First, Last and Deposit” a movie about the brutal reality of poverty and homelessness in America. Gather for dinner with your friends at one of the surrounding restaurants for a pre-movie meal. Restaurants include: D’s Mediterranean (1503 Colcord Ave), Kitok’s (1815 North 18th Street), the World Cup Cafe (1321 North 15th St.), San Diego (1229 N 18th St), Double R Burgers (1810 Herring Ave), and El Charro Tapatio (1615 West Waco Drive).
Thursday November 15th
Volunteer at one of Waco’s local food pantries, Shepherd’s Heart (1401 North 34th). 3:00p.m. to 6:00 p.m, Witness the need in our community first hand.
Friday November 16th
Attend a meeting of the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition at the VA (4800 Memorial Drive, Bldg. 6) 11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Participate in the local Food for Families Food Drive as a contributor, or/and as a volunteer. Call Khaliah Warren at Caritas, 254-753-4593 for information.
Saturday November 17th
Celebrate the one year anniversary of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market (400 South University Parks Drive) 9AM to 12:00PM