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More Than Just A Food Pantry

Updated on May 3, 2012

More Than Just a Food Pantry

Introduction:

Early one morning during my junior year of high school I rode with my fellow volunteers in the back of an old bus as we traveled further and further down Waco Drive, into the heart of Waco, Texas. At this point, I had no clue just how vital our destination was to this city. As we made our stop at 300 S. 15th Street, we poured out to what I only believed to be a food pantry. I was completely oblivious to the fact that Caritas is far more. My morning kicked off by helping other volunteers sort what seemed to be endless cans of food. I began to realize that Caritas supplies enormous amounts of food to this city. Not only do they do this, but they also provide basically whatever they can to assist families in need. By blessing families with meals, household items and appliances, clothing, and even assistance with bill payments, Caritas fights with passion to help those in need within the poverty stricken community in Waco.

Problem Overview:

After spending a day volunteering at Caritas, I was able to also leave with a greater understanding of the severity of poverty in Waco. In every city there are people and families that are considered poor; however, Waco, Texas has an exceptionally high poverty rate. In 2009, the percentage of residents in the state of Texas as a whole whose income was lower than the poverty level was 17.2 percent. With this statistic in mind it allows us to realize just how horrific Waco’s shocking poverty percentage of 30.9 really is (Waco Texas Poverty Rate Data). The rate of poverty in Waco, in 2009, was almost double that of the rest of the state of Texas! Although Waco’s statistics may be more alarming than other cities’, poverty is still a vital issue that must be combated. The definition of poverty is the condition of having no money, goods, or means of support. When looking at the big picture, in 2010, about 15 percent of America was considered to be living in poverty, which is roughly about 35 million people (National Poverty Center). This puts things into perspective, showing citizens just how significant the problem of poverty is.

After realizing the importance of the issue everyone wonders what causes poverty? Unfortunately, this question does not have a simple answer. Some people believe that poverty is the very own fault of the people who are suffering from it; however, when someone is born into poverty it is not so easy to get out. Poverty is an endless cycle. When a family suffers from a loss of a job, unexpected expenses, tragedy, etc., it is immensely difficult to climb out of the hole, and to break poverty’s cycle, and is why organizations like Caritas are important. Regardless of the cause, it results in only negative effects that are not just harmful to those in poverty, but also to those who are not. Poverty affects all of society and needs more attention, and the statistics regarding the issue in 2010 were the worst since 1993. Even though, poverty in America has improved greatly since in the 50’s, when nearly 40 million people, 22.4 percent of America, were living in poverty, it cannot be taken lightly in the least (National Poverty Center). This is why non-profit organizations, like Caritas, exist today, and why they are so passionate about the people in any given community.

When addressing the issue of poverty, it is no easy task. Poverty is virtually impossible to completely eliminate, but it can be helped. Organizations like Caritas provide families with help in times of need so that they may be more able to get back up on their feet. Also, different organizations use different approaches to this issue. For example, Shepherd’s Heart is a non-profit organization that strives to work in combination with local churches, agencies, and individuals in order to impact the community by identifying needs and finding the resources to meet those needs (Shepherd’s Heart). Shepherd’s Heart focuses on neighborhoods in North and East Waco, and has a staff that consists solely of volunteers. Over 2000 families receive this free food, consisting of canned goods, meats, fruits, vegetables, etc., per month. Shepherd’s Heart has also established an operation called “Things From the Heart” that allows people in need to buy clothing and household items at more affordable prices (Shepherd’s Heart). While Caritas and Shepherd’s heart both share a common goal, they go about fighting for the cause in a different manner. Caritas’s staff and board are composed of multi-religious and cultural people, while Shepherd’s Heart is a Christian organization. While endeavoring to help families break free of poverty, Shepherd’s Heart brings the word of God as well, in hopes that it will play a role in their climb out of a life in poverty (Shepherd’s Heart). I believe this to be a very inspiring characteristic of their organization that allows me to respect what they do even more than I already do.

Also fighting against poverty, Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County strives to make a difference so that we may see a better Waco. FPTP has a vision that by 2015, all people in McLennan County will have sustained access to 3 nutritious meals a day, 7 days a week (FPTP). Food Planning Task Force is going about this plan by mobilizing Resource Groups and Work Groups as a strategy to come together, combining efforts, to surmount the issue of hunger. In April of 2011, Food Planning Task Force to a step closer to their goal as they held a Summer Meals Summit to engage the community in this fight against hunger. FPTF also has shown potential by working with Waco Independent School District, THI, and the McLennan County Hunger Coalition in attempts to raise the participation of children in the summer meals program (Food Planning Task Force). By working together, organizations and groups are able to make huge contributions to society. And although the Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County is a relatively new group, and I feel that they have not been given time to prove themselves effective or ineffective, I believe that they may have set their hopes to high for now. With such a high rate of poverty in Waco, how in the world will FPTF make sure that by 2015 every person in McLennan County will have sustained access to 3 nutritious meals a day, 7 days a week? In my opinion, they should have set some sort of short term goal first, and then worked to some sort of a greater goal.

Organization Overview:

With several different locations, Caritas fights not only hunger, but poverty as a whole. The non-profit organization provides emergency support to people in need of the community, and has fought with great determination since it began in 1967. Founded by Austin Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, Caritas began helping the community for 12 years before becoming an independent agency (Caritas). The agency is run by a board of directors consisting of 20 people of different ethnicities and religions, and has a staff composed of 31 employees, and over 250 volunteers per month. Many of the volunteers go to Baylor (Caritas).

Caritas focuses on helping anyone with emergency needs in the community, and they do more than most people realize. On average, Caritas spends 93 thousand dollars annually, helping the community. They provide the needy with things such as clothes, food, household items, travel, and emergency lodging. Caritas blesses families with these services by means of different programs. First being the Thrift Store program. Citizens are typically able to shop here at very discounted prices, so that they do not feel like they are receiving a hand-out, unless they were referred by an administrator of Caritas. Once referred, you are able to receive some items free of charge. The Thrift Store program is the place where people will be able to obtain clothing, furniture, household items, etc. (Caritas). Cartias has two Thrift Store locations now, thanks to the “Ladies of Charity.” These are part of the renovation plans Caritas has so that they may help the community even more (The Waco Citizen). The second program is the Emergency Assistance program. Through this program, families in need are able to obtain food, clothes, utilities, and even prescription drugs. In order to assure a recipient’s need for such items, they are interviewed by Caritas before the organization gives them this emergency assistance, but many clients are referred to Caritas by other organizations. Caritas also assists the community with the utilization of their thrift store which is the best source for their clothing, furniture, etc (Caritas). Approximately 100 to 250 families are helped by Caritas every day. More than 98% of the money Caritas is given is from “public support,” and about 86 percent of the money donated to Caritas, goes directly towards helping the families (Caritas).

While Caritas does obtain some money via federal, state, and country funding, the organization relies heavily on donations volunteerism, making it evident that the community realizes just how important this organization is. Waco does a great job working together with Caritas. In fact, they even have been assisted by rival high school football teams. By leaving their rivalry on the field, the football teams of the Waco High Lions and University Trojans combined efforts to collect 822 pounds of canned food in attempts to help Caritas in the fight for a better Waco (Waco ISD). Caritas does an excellent job at working together with the community, which is part of why it is successful.

Evaluation:

After considering the severity of the poverty in Waco, and also considering how diligently Caritas works at being the best in order to help the community, I think that Caritas of Waco does a great job at fighting the issue of poverty in the local area. By striving to assist the needy families in areas in addition to food, such as clothing, utilities, household items, etc., Caritas is able to make a huge impact in the lives of countless people.

When considering all that Caritas does to help, it is hard to suggest other things they could do to improve. Caritas is also growing, which allows it to help more people. In addition to adding a second thrift store, just this past year Caritas finally had raised enough money so that their 1.75 million dollar Capital Campaign expansion project may begin (Gomez). In 2009, the food and supplies Caritas had were diminishing, and Caritas had 278 people register for help in a single day (Fleetwood). The demand was increasing, and even though Caritas was running out of food, other food banks like Salvation Army helped make things work so that Caritas was able to continue the good work (Fleetwood). With this increased demand, it was evident that Caritas needed to expand in order to make the difference. A year later, Caritas still is running low as reporter, Bonnie Gonzalez explains that “resources are being stretched thin” (Gonzalez). Caritas was now assisting 2200 families every single month, as opposed to 1500 per month that they used to see (Gonzalez). The number of people being assisted by Caritas has increased about 30 percent within a couple of years, and Caritas is responding to the need by expanding so that they may help even more (Gomez). This organization seems to search for any opportunity they have to help out the less fortunate people of Waco.

One thing that Caritas could do to help though, is use more advertising, and make their volunteer opportunities more publicized so that more Baylor students will be aware of this organization so that they may help. Many of Caritas’s volunteers are Baylor students, but I have not met many people who knew much about what this organization does. If Caritas were to advertise, or give Baylor students more opportunities, they would be able to have more volunteers.

One other thing that I believe that Caritas could do to improve would be to possibly seek donation help from companies not in Waco, but in the surrounding areas. This is difficult to do, but it is an idea that I do believe would help tremendously. With the overwhelming amount of poverty in Waco, it is difficult to help every family as much as Caritas would like. But with additional help, Caritas would be able to make even more of a difference than they already have.

Local citizens whose lives have been changed are overwhelmingly grateful. People like Mary Garrett, who expressed her gratitude when she described she was “grateful to be here [Caritas] because it really does help my. I couldn’t get by. I really couldn’t get by without it” (Gomez). Imagine 2200 families every single month who could not get by without the help of Caritas. Another changed life, Brandy Salvierna, says that “without this place [Caritas], we wouldn’t have been able to make it. Without good quality how can you present yourself for a job? How can you provide for your children” (Gonzalez)? Salvierna is the perfect example of why Caritas is effective. Poverty is a cycle that is difficult to escape once it has consumed you. For example, when someone loses a job, and has a family to feed, what will they do? With the problems they now face it seems impossible to find a job again. Salvierna described that Caritas helped her with this exact problem. It allowed her to put food on her children’s plate and so that she would be ready to get back on her feet, to get a new job, and to break free of poverty. When viewing Caritas as a whole, I have to say it is extremely effective and helpful to the community of Waco. The fact that Caritas is not only a food pantry makes a huge difference.

Conclusion:

Overall, Caritas is an outstanding nonprofit organization. Even though it does not eliminate the issue of poverty in Waco, the fact that they reach out to so many families, in so many ways, every single day, makes this organization great. When taking into consideration that Caritas spends 92 thousand dollars every year helping Waco, it is impossible to believe that this organization isn’t successful. Waco has an exceedingly high poverty rate, and it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate that, but fighting this problem with almost 100 thousand dollars every year makes a huge difference. Where would Waco be without Caritas? When Caritas was going through tough times, they held on and kept fighting they were able to expand and meet the demands. This past year, Caritas helped 24,420 families by providing 2,098,539 pounds of food those families (Caritas). This organization shows incredible determination to make a difference, which is why this organization is so effective, and so vital to Waco.


Bibliography

“Caritas of Waco to Open New Thrift Store.” The Waco Citizen. 2 November 2011. Web. 12 April 2012. <http://wacocitizen.com/news/caritas-waco-open-thrift-store/5412/>

Fleetwood, Megan. “Increased Need Depletes Supplies At Waco Food Bank.” KWTX News. 21 April 2009. Web. 12 April 2012. <http://www.kwtx.com/home/headlines/43394297.html>

Gomez, Amanda. “Caritas Undergoing Renovations to Keep Up With Increasing Need.” KXXV-TV News Channel 25. 25 February 2011. Web. 11 April 2012. <http://www.kxxv.com/story/14144559/caritas-undergoing-renocations-to-keep-up-with-high-demand-of-people-in-need>

Gonzalez, Bonnie. “Food Supply Running Low at Caritas of Waco.” YNN News. 26 October 2010. Web. 12 April 2012. <http://austin.ynn.com/content/local_news/274874/food-supply-running-low-at-caritas-of-waco?ap=1&MP4>

“Local Food Pantry Benefits From work of Football Players.” Waco ISD. 21 December 2012. Web. 12 April 2012. <http://www.wacoisd.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=428&pageId=4612>

“Our Mission.” Caritas of Waco. N.p. Web. 10 April 2012. <http://www.caritas-waco.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=2.>

“Poverty in the United States.” National Poverty Center. N.p. Web. 25 April 2012. <http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/>

“Waco, Texas (TX) Poverty Rate Data – Information About Poor and Low Income Residents.” City-Data.com. n.p. Web. 10 April 2012. <http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Waco-Texas.html>

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Great job of explaining what Caritas does and why it is so important. I am guessing that many people from rural areas must travel to get food here since Waco is a hub for at least an hour in each direction. You are right that food needs to be a priority when we are thinking about meeting needs. Voted up and useful.

    • Emma Larkins profile image

      Emma Larkins 5 years ago from Manchester, MD

      Very informative. Thanks for sharing such an important and powerful story!

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