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Heights Food Care Center deals with growing demand

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Posted: Thursday, October 6, 2011 12:00 pm

By Rebecca Rose

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - Officials at the local food bank said the center is facing an increase in demand, following a long summer of rising utility bills for area residents in need.

Linda Dawson, executive director for the Harker Heights Food Care Center, said demand has increased significantly in the past four months. In September, she said the center had 938 individuals receive donations.

"Last year, it was about 500 to 600 in September. And now, its jumped up to over 900," she said.

"The past few months, especially in the first part of September, we were really busy," said Linda Michelsen, a volunteer who regularly works at the center. "The need is growing by leaps and bounds. We had almost 1,000 people come through one month. Last year, 700 would have been a big number."

"The demand is constantly growing," Michelsen said. "A lot of people have lost their jobs. A lot of the families, you can tell, are very needy. A lot of them have children."

Michelsen and Dawson attribute the increase in demand to a summer with a long heat wave and rising utility bills.

"With skyrocketing utilities like electric bills, people have to make hard decisions," Dawson said. "I had so many people coming in here, crying, saying their (electricity was) getting turned off. But we have no funds available to help people with anything like that right now."

Michelle Walton has been volunteering at the Harker Heights Food Center for more than three years. Every Saturday, she spends almost four hours filling bags with foods such as bread, rice, canned vegetables, cereal and whatever else has been donated to help feed families in need.

Walton said she meets a lot of people who are struggling due to the current economic downturn and have been turned down for aid programs, such as food stamps, because they do not meet minimum income standards.

"Some people that get a paycheck still can't afford to buy themselves food," Walton said. "They live paycheck to paycheck."

Ruth Sidorski, 76, is a food service worker at Fort Hood. For Sidorski, the food bank is an essential part of her monthly budgeting.

In 2005, Sidorski was left homeless after a fire destroyed her home and many of her

personal belongings.

Sidorski works less than 30 hours a week, making less than $10 an hour. She said rising electric bills made the summer an especially challenging time for her finances.

Once a month for the past few years, Sidorski has been a regular recipient of aid at the Harker Heights Food Care Center.

At her last visit on Saturday, Sidorski received a few servings of Ramen instant noodles, several cans of beans, corn, diced tomatoes and sandwich buns. She said the supply of staples helps supplement her grocery budget for the month, alleviating an already strained wallet.

"It's not a whole lot. Every little bit helps," she said. "I love to cook. I don't need too much."

"They're the working poor," Dawson said. "Sometimes they're embarrassed. They have jobs, they make minimum wage. We help supply basics for a week. It's meant to be a supplement for the month."

The Harker Heights Food Care Center is a partner agency of the Austin-based Capital Area Food Bank of Texas. The center stocks received donations from the food bank on the first and third Thursday of every month by selecting from a list of available food items. The Harker Heights facility receives an average of 6,000 pounds of food per month from the Austin agency.

Dawson said certain supplies from the food bank have been down in the past few months.

"This week, they had no rice, no pasta, no dry beans, no cereal," she said. "Potatoes and corn on the cob were the only produce they had available (this month)."

The food center in Harker Heights also receives about 4,500 pounds of food a month from other sources.

"Most people think of donating to a food bank around holidays. During the rest of the year, supplies become more scarce," she said.

The Harker Heights Food Center is open from 8 to 11:30 a.m. every Saturday, but Dawson said emergency help is available at any time. The center is located inside First Baptist Church at 100 East Ruby in Harker Heights.

Contact Rebecca Rose at rebeccar@kdhnews.com.

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