Caldwell County Christian Ministries Food Pantry receives huge donation in time of need
Trailers full of food is not an unusual sight at the Caldwell County Christian Ministries Food Pantry. Like clockwork, they arrive once per week to provide food to those in need in Caldwell County.
But the 18-wheeler that arrived on December 9th carried 11 pallets of non-perishable items, a large donation by any measure. The 20,000 pounds of food, courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was a welcome Christmas present for the local charity.
The donation was a mixed variety, including items not normally received on their weekly trucks from Austin, like flour. It allows clients to potentially bake cookies for the holidays, and the food pantry to give more for the Christmas season.
“With that donation, we probably won’t have to buy non-perishable items for a couple of weeks, so that’s a huge savings for us,” Executive Director Meredith Jakovich said in an interview December 10th. “It also helps us in the holiday season so we can give our clients more to sustain them.”
This year marks the second year of sustained growth for the CCCM. When Jakovich took over in January 2019, they were serving about 300 families per month. In November 2020 the pantry served 916 families and 2331 individuals, a trend they’ve seen nearly all year.
The pandemic has driven some of that increase, but Jakovich said the growth began shortly after she took over. She credits a shift in focusing on customer service, as well as the quantity and quality of food given.
“People heard from their friends that this is a great place to go, you are treated well, and you are treated with respect,” Jakovich said.
That word-of-mouth began to show on the books when the food pantry began seeing an additional 100 new families per month sign up to receive food baskets.
Once COVID hit in March of this year and people either lost their jobs or had hours reduced, the numbers shot up. In March, the Food Pantry served 1068 families, up from 789 the month prior.
As the federal aid from the CARES Act began to trickle in, the numbers dipped as low as 645 in July. But as the aid has dried up and things are still not back to normal, the food pantry is back to seeing yearly highs.
CCCM is a partner agency of the Central Texas Foodbank. That’s where they purchase roughly 85-percent of the food they distribute, at an average cost of $4,000 per month. The rest is received through donations from local retailers like Walmart, and H.E.B., and restaurants Little Ceasars and KFC.
Clients at the food bank receive a 150-pound basket once per month. They can come in any time during normal business hours, and are checked in via a computer system to see when they last picked up.
Clients 55-years and older have the ability to receive an additional bag of non-perishables through the Healthy Options Program for the Elderly, also called H.O.P.E.
Last year the food pantry acquired the land adjacent to the food bank to create a community garden. Volunteers help plant, maintain, and harvest fresh fruit and vegetables to add to the baskets.
“The garden is a great new addition to our programing because everything we harvest goes directly to our clients,” Jakovich said.
Busting at the Seams
Having nearly tripled the number of people they serve in two years space is beginning to become an issue.
“We are kind of busting at the seams at this building,” Jakovich said.
She hired a grant writer to help acquire more state and federal money, and sees a potential for that person to help with money for a new building. The conversations have started, but it’s a plan Jakovich said is more likely a few years down the road.
She wants to see the growth continue at the food pantry, potentially offering more frequent pickups, or larger baskets of food. For that to happen in the near-term, it will require more donations from the public.
This month they are kicking off their Spoon Full of Love campaign, a final fundraiser of the year. A $100 donation will help cook 120 healthy meals for their families. Donations can be made online at www.caldwellfoodpantry.com