By LIBBY CLUETT
Tammy Lovell found out she was Woman of the Year just hours after the Sunday, Dec. 30 issue of the Index was off the press and delivered at her door.
She said she and her husband, Gary, stayed up late the Saturday night before watching a movie.
She said she noticed he didn't fall asleep during the movie as he usually does and “kept looking outside.”
“Finally the movie was over and he went out and got the newspaper – and it was 2 o'clock in the morning – and he starts opening it up to read it. I couldn't imagine why he was going to read the paper at 2 o'clock in the morning,” she said. “And I said, 'What are you doing, looking for your girlfriend?' And he said, 'By the way, I am,' and showed me the paper and there I was.
“It was kind of a shock at 2 o'clock in the morning. I had no clue at all,” Tammy Lovell added. “I looked at the paper and thought, 'Oh my gosh, that's me.' It was very shocking.”
Lovell was awarded the Index's 2012 honor for all of her community work, whether at the First United Methodist Church Food Bank and chairing the organization's Back Pack Buddies or helping get at least two non-profit organizations – the Mineral Wells Center of Life and Noah's Ark Thrift Store – up and running.
Her two main goals are to “Break the cycle of poverty and all of us working together to do it,” Lovell said.
“I feel like, right now, God ... he wants this to all happen,” she said. “I mean he wants us to work together. It's not about one church or one organization. I don't know, there's just a spirit of something good happening in Mineral Wells.
“And he takes ordinary people, wanting us to work together to find a way to help those in need here; how to break the cycle of poverty.
“One church, one organization, one person isn't going to do it. It takes all of us to do it. We all have gifts or skills or – in my case, I'm not that skilled, I sell flooring, I'm not trained for this job, I barely text – but I have the faith that this is the right thing for our area,” Lovell added.
Bringing area resources together to help break the cycle of poverty has spawned many other programs recently.
“That was our reason for the community garden,” Lovell said of the garden on the campus of Meals on Wheels of Palo Pinto County. “It will help the food banks. Food is so expensive and we can grow nutritional food and give people a chance to not just receive the goods, but also be able to give back and learn a skill and learn job skills.”
Lovell added that at Noah's Ark Thrift Store, for which she serves on the board, “we're always fundraising and looking for money. All the non-profits in town always need money. If we have Noah's [and] if we can make it work, things can be donated, sold, put back into the community [and] people can learn job skills.
“The Mineral Wells Center of Life has the Jobs for Life class. We could teach people job skills by volunteering at Noah's. It would be a win-win situation,” Lovell said, adding, “If there's someone who has an immediate need of something, if it's at Noah's … we can help those.”
“With the food banks, First United Methodist Church, First Christian Church and Southside Church of Christ, we're always [connecting] and helping each other and working together. It's about what we can do together.
“The poverty and those in need is so big that we can't do it alone,” she said.
Lovell noted that since she has been with the food bank, for about eight years, “the numbers keep going up.”
When she first started, the FUMC food bank fed 800 people a year, but in recent years the numbers have risen to just under 3,000 per year.
“With BackPack Buddies, we're feeding 165 kids a week, give or take,” she said, adding they fed 50 kids when the program started and said the need may have been there from the beginning.
Lovell said this rise in customers is the case at other food pantries, including First Christian Church.
“We're not looking at how can we teach these people – help those learn how to help themselves,” she said. “We need to look a little deeper and it's a tougher thing.
“It's easy to say, 'Here's your food, God bless you.' It's really tough to sit down and go, 'Ok, what's going on. How can we help? What can we do?'”
She said the solutions could vary from helping a veteran get on the programs that can help them to teaching an individual job skills, including “how to hold a job or a computer class.”
Lovell said she has a teacher willing to teach evening computer classes.
“But we need computers now and we need the students,” she said. “We need to go to the food banks and talk to the people and build a relationship with them, get them to help work in the garden, get them to come to these classes. But it takes so many people and so much time. I think that's what we've done the most is try to get all these things going. We need help.”
Lovell said she and her cohorts at the Center of Life and other non-profits are “building a network” to get teachers and mentors for those in need and by going to the food banks to get potential students/customers to sign up.
Lovell said this will take time and a committed volunteer who can sit down and talk to the prospective student/client to build a relationship and find out “what's really going on – why do you need this food? If they haven't got their GED, if they haven't graduated high school, then let's help them and get that. Then let's put them through a computer class.
“Let's help them help themselves out of this situation here they can't get out of. They're overwhelmed. Some of this is generational and they just don't know how to get out of it.
“We need more volunteers to go to the food banks to be an intake person and sit there an talk to these people, build a relationship with them,” she said.
Lovell added that people in need of assistance tend to go to the food bank first, when things start happening to change their situation. This, she said, is why the food banks are a good place to find out if people need help with filling out paperwork or getting job skills and education.
She added that readers can help by referring a potential customer or by sending volunteer prospects to the Center of Life, by calling (940) 327-8700.