GATESVILLE — With another record-breaking Thanksgiving food drive over, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Care Center in Gatesville.
Just days after the Gatesville community pitched in 311,934 pounds of food and $115,000 in cash donations for the Care Center in the 2012 Food for Families drive, the center shifted its focus from canned goods to play things.
“Toys are a big deal,” said Deral McWhorter, director of the Care Center for the last 12 years.
“We will give out Christmas for families with kids on Dec. 17,” he said. Families without children will get Christmas gifts Dec. 18.
“We gave out Christmas to 500 kids last year,” McWhorter said. He is expecting more than 600 this year.
Last year, when he arrived at 8:30 a.m., 38 families were waiting for the doors to open at 9 a.m.
Some had been waiting since 2 p.m. the day before, he said, and had spent the night, wrapped in blankets, in the parking lot behind the center.
Boxes full of donations
The Monday before Thanksgiving, 161 people received help from the center, including a young tattooed couple with a baby in tow. They left with food and clothing.
A team of volunteers from a local church logged new clients, passed out food boxes and sorted clothing while McWhorter inspected the growing inventory of Christmas gifts piling up in the back.
Games, gadgets, dolls, puzzles, balls, building blocks and fuzzy toy animals of all shapes, sizes and colors were packed and stacked floor to ceiling in several rooms of the center.
“There is still a toy shipment that hasn’t come in,” McWhorter said, “and there are 84 boxes of toys that haven’t been uncrated.”
McWhorter uses cash donations to buy toys from discount vendors to supplement the supply of gifts from the community.
Hundreds of colorful patchwork lap robes, lovingly crafted by Gatesville volunteer Waldean Cummings at a rate of two per day, are stacked to the ceiling along two top shelves.
When it is time to “give out Christmas,” a volunteer escorts the shopping parents from room to room, helping find the right gifts for each child. Shoes and clothing are part of the present offering, as are Cummings’ lap robes.
A community effort
Throughout the year, the storefront at 105 N. Seventh St., provides free food, clothing and school supplies for cash-strapped folks in Gatesville and most of Coryell County.
The Care Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization incorporated in 2001. McWhorter, the only paid staff member, answers to a 14-member board of community leaders.
The center is staffed by volunteers from 13 local organizations — 12 of them churches — on a rotating basis. Students from Gatesville High School also help at the center.
Eligible clients are those who live in Coryell County (except Copperas Cove, which has its own care center) and meet the board’s income limit.
McWhorter would not disclose the income limit, which he said the board “will raise from time to time to accommodate need.”
The center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Once a month, Care Center clients can pick up a box of groceries and browse the clothing racks and shelves for pants, dresses, blouses, coats, suits, shoes, shirts, pajamas and underwear.
Clients can come back throughout the month for produce, bread and sweets, he said.
‘A giving bunch’
The community’s generosity more than matches the need, McWhorter said. Gatesville consistently outshines larger neighboring cities in the annual Food for Families campaign.
“This community is just a giving bunch,” McWhorter said. “They just thrive on wanting to beat last year’s record” in the food drive.
Rusty Garrett, longtime weather man for KWTX Channel 10 in Waco, has emceed many food drives for the television station, which sponsors Food for Families. He was at the Gatesville fire station for this year’s drive.
“Gatesville is the most giving community in Central Texas,” Garrett said. “This community out-gives Temple and Killeen year after year.”