Food Pantry serving more, but needs also growing￼
By Kyle Mooty
Meredith Jakovich is grateful for the space she’s able to work with at the Caldwell County Christian Ministries. She needs more. Jakovich is grateful for the food and monetary donations to the CCCM Food Pantry. She needs more. She appreciates all the partners and volunteers of the CCCM Food Pantry. Yet, she needs more.
Due to its ever-growing need – thanks in large to the tough economic situation – CCCM is serving more than ever with costs being more than ever.
“In January, we served 753 households and 992 food baskets,” said Jakovich, executive director of CCCM. “Just six months later in June, we did 990 households and almost 1,500 baskets. That’s a huge spike.”
CCCM has also added to its list of programs and now has five – Food Baskets, HOPE (Healthy Options for the Elderly), Backpacks, Garden, and Feeding Lockhart.
Each basket has 100 pounds or more and clients are eligible to visit two per month. Though it’s rare, CCCM has had some families request three baskets a month.
“As everyone knows, stuff is expensive,” Jakovich said. “It’s been a roller coaster for us as it has for many other people. COVID was a very interesting time. Right now, we’re seeing post-COVID affects and inflation such as supply chain issues coupled with cost of living and the economic climate being what it is. We have just seen a spike in people requesting service, a spike in the number of times our existing customers are coming back and new clients whom we’ve never seen before that are hurting and needing help for the first time.”
CCCM has several types of clients. Lifestyle Clients are known well at CCCM and are seen each month. Seasonal Clients are going through a difficult period and visit CCCM for a few months.
“We are giving out grocery baskets every day that we’re open,” Jakovich said. “We have four other programs that are secondary but still under our umbrella.”
Those other programs include:
* HOPE (Healthy Options for the Elderly), which includes an extra bag of commodities/dry goods for people 55-and-older.
* Garden Program, where the garden manager and volunteers plant and harvest organic produce for clients. Everything produced in the garden goes directly to pantry clients.
* Backpacks, (The CCCM Food Pantry) is in three Lockhart schools as well as all three in Luling. It distributes monthly backpacks to six schools during the school year. “That program has grown tremendously, but there’s still a lot of work to do there,” Jakovich said. “It’s really just the tip of the iceberg.”
* Feeding Lockhart, the newest of CCCM’s programs. The community meal began in August 2021 and CCCM partners with two Lockhart churches — Church of Christ Tuesday (5:30 p.m.), and First United Methodist Church on Wednesday (5 p.m.). “We provide the food and supplies,” Jakovich said. “The churches provide the venue and the labor.”
Nevertheless, the Food Baskets are the main emphasis of CCCM, which is where most food and resources go.
Why the spike in numbers?
“I think people that may have not needed something before are now reaching out and looking into what resources are out there, so their awareness has changed, but I also think that our clients that were coming once a month are now taking advantage of the option to come twice a month,” Jakovich said. “I believe the spike from March through June is very much an indicator of the economic climate. People are paying more for gas, but they’re also paying so much more for food. I’ve seen 10 or 11 percent in the rise of food costs for one year. It’s everything across the board. If you go and look what you’d normally pay for produce, a lemon is now 50 cents apiece. A bag of carrots used to be $1.89, not it’s about $3. It’s small, but it all adds up. To have a 10- or 11-percent increase in your grocery bill doesn’t seem like a big number, but it is.”
CCCM receives information from its clients to help fill the basket, but meat is always the most requested item.
“Obviously, meat is one of the most expensive things to eat,” Jakovich said. “We try to provide at least 20 pounds of meat. I wish it could be more. I wish it could be 30- or 40-pounds of meat. I don’t have the storage for that or the budget for that. You can be a family of two or a family of 10 and you’re still getting that 100-pound basket.”
CCCM gets about 90 percent of its food from the Texas Food Bank in Austin. It is a partner agency of the Texas Food Bank. However, Jakovich said even CCCM’s ordering from the Texas Food Bank has changed.
“My shopping list, my options to order used to be four to six pages,” she said. “It’s a page and a half maybe now. And it’s changed. One week I get peanut butter, the next week I can’t. Same with spaghetti sauce. It’s just a bizarre thing. The options are not there like they used to be. Last week the only meat option I could order was plant-based chorizo. That doesn’t have the appeal or flexibility of ground meat. I love to give ground meat because you can do anything with that.”
So far, Jakovich said CCCM has been able to keep up with the demand, although the number one challenge of space is tightening.
“Last year, we issued just under a million pounds of food,” she said. “We have 3,000 square feet. I’ve plugged a freezer into every outlet I can find. “
More space with a new facility is CCM’s goal.
“That is definitely on the list, that’s the goal,” Jakovich said. “Our board just went through the strategic planning process back in April. The space issues have been an issue for three or four years. The City of Lockhart owns the facility and leases it to CCCM for $1 per year, something Jakovich calls “amazing.” “We have an amazing partnership with the City of Lockhart,” she said. “They are fantastic.”
CCCM has added 1,500 square feet at its current building that it did not used to have access to. However, Jankovich estimates a need for 10,000 to 12,000 square feet.
“I feel like when we get there, we’ll be able to do more, feed more and give them more because I’ll have more room for freezers and I’ll have more room for canned goods,” Jakovich said.
“We’re ready to start being serious about it. There is no existing structure that could accommodate us. Whenever we get a new building, we’ll be able to do more, serve more people.”
The statistics are staggering. Jakovich notes that in 2019, Caldwell County had 6,230 people experiencing food insecurity.
CCCM already partners with Walmart, HEB, Little Caesar’s, and KFC, and recently added Iron Ox as a partner.
CCCM is open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and on Tuesday from noon-6 p.m. For more information, contact CCCM at 512-376-6661. Its can be viewed at www.caldwellfoodpantry.com, or by visiting its Facebook site.
CCCM is located at 901 Bois D’Arc Street in Lockhart (the former hospital).