By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald
Linda Michelsen has a dream.
The fundraising coordinator for the Harker Heights Food Care Center wants to see enough food on the shelves - and a big, air-conditioned building in which to store it - to feed the growing number of hungry Harker Heights residents.
The center has struggled recently to purchase food and keep it safe.
Michelsen, along with executive director Linda Dawson and input specialist Vivian Faulkner, presented that dream Monday to the Harker Heights City Council.
And to the women's surprise, part of it came true when Place 1 Councilman John Reider offered them a $1,000 check for their new building fund.
"I do have a dream," said Michelsen. "It might not happen real soon, but I believe it will happen at some point. And I just might be the cog in the wheel - the person who gets the ball rolling in Harker Heights."
Council members listened intently as Michelsen told them donation cans at most Harker Heights businesses, such as
H-E-B on Indian Trail, are earmarked solely for the Killeen Food Care Center. Also, she said, most food collections in Harker Heights are sent to the same location.
"I was taken back when I learned the food and money from Harker Heights is not being distributed evenly," said Reider. "We have a lot of homeless and people going hungry here. We need to get the word out about the center's need. And I'm happy to do my part to help."
Dawson said the food care center, which operates out of First Baptist Church at 100 E. Ruby, gave out 203,080 pounds of food last year, almost doubling the previous year's amount.
The center is a partner agency of the Austin-based Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, and purchases food at reduced prices from it.
Demand from Harker Heights has increased significantly, said Dawson, overtaking the food center's regular supply.
In October 2010, the agency fed 726 families. In 2011, that number increased to 938 families in September, 911 families in August and 1,044 families in July, the month gasoline prices skyrocketed.
Of those families served each month, 15 percent were veterans, 30 percent were senior citizens, 10 percent were single mothers staying home to take care of children, and 45 percent were working but not making enough money to comfortably live on, said Dawson.
"These people have nothing left after they pay for the necessities," said Dawson. "People think they're lazy, but that's not true. They just don't make enough money. There is a rich element in Harker Heights, but if you drive by the elementary school on South Ann Boulevard, you'll see the other side."
Some donations do come in, said Dawson, especially around the holidays when civic groups and businesses sponsor food and money collections for the food care center.
Even individuals help out. Last week, an anonymous soldier brought in a bank envelope containing $2,000 in $100 bills.
But Dawson said she sees poverty in Harker Heights growing, mainly due to the precarious economy and rising prices. The only thing not increasing in step is local wages, she added. Families have moved in with other families after losing jobs and homes, and those large families are now visiting the food center.
One of every five people in Harker Heights lives below the poverty line, said Michelsen, and one of every four children in the growing city confront hunger issues every day. That's why the city must help the food care center expand and feed more people, she told the council.
Michelsen asked city leaders to assist in guiding the agency's search for more funding. She also proposed enlisting business owners to pledge $10 a month to the center - giving it a $7,000 monthly budget instead of the current $1,000 monthly budget if most Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce members sign up.
"I commend you for everything you're doing," Mayor Mike Aycock said to the women. "We're going to form a subcommittee to work on the problem and see what we can do for you. We'll put our heads together and come up with something positive that will help you."
Contact Kim Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.
The city of Harker Heights will be taking nonperishable food donations to help the Harker Heights Food Care Center through Nov. 21. Donation sites are Harker Heights City Hall, 305 Miller's Crossing; the Harker Heights Recreation Center, 307 Miller's Crossing; and the Harker Heights Activity Center/Library, 400 Indian Trail. Items needed include bread, canned vegetables, cereal, potatoes, instant noodles, pasta, corn, diced tomatoes and dry baby formula.
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