MARBLE FALLS — Sam Pearce knows the filled shelves at The Helping Center of Marble Falls make it appear as if things are going really well for the food pantry. But sometimes, the image doesn’t reveal the reality.
“We need whatever we can get,” the center’s director recently told a group of 4-H members who were visiting the facility. “Food, money, volunteers — anything we can get.”
The Burnet County 4-H Horse Club dropped off a $300 check for the food pantry. While there, Pearce took them on a tour of the center as well as shared the importance food pantries in the Highland Lakes.
He told the youth and a few parents that during the summer, the center averaged 375 families, but by September, the number exploded to 597.
“We had 48 new families just for the month of September,” he said. The numbers reveal that, despite the economy improving, many families and individual still struggle to meet their basic dietary needs.
“Places like this are critical for those families,” Pearce said.
And with the holidays approaching, Pearce and other food pantry managers anticipate demand to continue to climb.
“There’s always a need throughout the year,” said Roy Guerrero of Joseph’s Food Pantry in Granite Shoals. “We’ve been rather steady, but we’re seeing new families every week. And it usually picks up during the holidays.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in five Texas households experiences “food insecurity,” which is defined as not having consistent access to adequate food during the year. More than a quarter of Texas children fall under that category.
Sometimes, this means a child or an entire family must skip a meal or two. Unfortunately, it also means families and individuals — particularly the elderly — face the tough decision of either buying food or necessary medicines.
Without food banks and similar agencies, the problem would be greater.
Pearce explained The Helping Center of Marble Falls does not get any government assistance, from federal down to city. While federal or state funds could help to some degree, he pointed out that it would also bring an abundance of paperwork tha could limit staff when it came to assisting a family or an individual.
“If somebody comes in here with a need, and we determine it’s a real need, we can help them,” Pearce said. “If we were tied to the government, there would probably be a stack of forms we’d have to fill out first.”
The freedom that comes by not taking government money brings with it a need to find other resources. Pearce and Guerrero credited local communities and churches with keeping the doors open.
And that includes 4-H clubs.
“It’s support from you guys and all the others that make this possible,” Pearce told club members.
When Joseph’s Food Pantry hosts its annual Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 23 at Highland Lakes Elementary School, Guerrero said several hundred volunteers will help out.
But there’s always room for more assistance, whether during special events or with regular operations.
“We could always use more volunteers,” Guerrero said.
As for food, pantries welcome it. But if people really want to make a difference, monetary donations are the best way to do it.
“Monetary donations go a lot farther because we’re able to purchase from the Capital Area Food Bank, which stretches each dollar a lot farther than if you go to the local grocery story,” Guerrero said.
If something isn’t available through the Capital Area Food Bank, Guerrero can often get it through a food wholesaler, still below the retail price.
Officials with the food bank at First Baptist Church of Marble Falls recommended monetary donations as well because of the connection with the Capital Area Food Bank.
Pearce agreed that monetary donations help the most, but he isn’t going to turn away anything.
Outside The Helping Center, Pearce showed the 4-H youth around the garden. Members of the Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association plant and tend the garden with produce going to center. It provides something most food banks lack: fresh vegetables.
Pearce’s purpose for the tour: People help how and where they can, whether it’s as simple as making a donation, volunteering a few hours a week or raising tomatoes.