Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
In two weeks, most Americans will sit down with their families to a hearty, warm meal with a large turkey in the middle of the table before retiring to the couch to cheer on their football team of allegiance. But for every household that does not have to bat an eye at the thought of eating such a meal, there a countless more families in need that struggle to put food on the table any given day.
Locally, food banks like New Haven Helping Hands strive to combat this problem.
On Nov. 1, a largely unpublicized cut of the federal food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) went into effect.
According to a report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the irreversible change has caused a large chunk of the monthly food budgets for four million Texans to disappear overnight, equating to 180 million meals being lost off of Texas tables.
The cut is the result of an end to food stamp benefits that were part of the Recovery Act from 2009. Congress voted to end the boost in 2010, but three years later the economy is still struggling and there has been little change in the number or rate of Americans living in poverty, according to the report. Because of the cut, $411 million in will be lost in federal aid over the next 11 months, leading a Texas family of four to lose an average of $36 a month in food aid. Families of less than four will lose between $1 and $29, depending on size, and for each family member more than four, households will lose an additional $10.
With these changes to the food stamp program in full swing, Helping Hands in Mineral Wells hopes to increase its ability to serve, through new system and some help from friends, to meet the mounting need.
Founder and Executive Director Jim Rhodes said he has already seen the effects of the changes among his clientele. He mention one woman with five children whose aid has decreased from $600 to around $275.
“There’s going to be a drastic need for meeting the extra demand,” he said. “Last week, I had 10 new families apply for food. We just want people to be aware of the services offered in case they had not known.”
After 28 years of operation, Rhodes said Helping Hands is the oldest continually operating food bank in Palo Pinto County. Over that time, Rhodes said they have served 6,241 families (about 18,000 people) with an average this year of about 1,200 people per month. Currently, Rhodes said his group provides access to food for more than 85 percent of the county.
In addition to their Mineral Wells office – which is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – Helping Hands employs a mobile food bank to service the rest of the county as well. On the third Saturday of each month, their truck caters to a couple hundred needy families in Gordon, Strawn and Mingus. They also go to Graford on the fourth Saturday of each month and offer homebound deliveries to about 35 families on the second Tuesday of each month.
All of those numbers are bound to go up in the coming months and that means the organization will need some helping hands of their own.
Helping Hands needs donations, food and especially volunteers. In addition to food, they offer clothing, toys and other household items at no charge to their clients. Rhodes said they sort around 5,000 pounds of food and another 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of clothing weekly. Clothing is just as big of a need as food, according to Rhodes, who has seen many people come in to get coats for their children and babies since the cold weather has come in.
Rhodes explained the most valuable donation they can receive is a monetary one. Helping Hands is able to purchase food in bulk from the Tarrant Area Food Bank at just 14 cents a pound and now with a new walk-in refrigerator – provided by an unnamed foundation – they will be able to store things like produce and stretch each dollar even farther.
Rhodes said they are also desperately in need of an associate director capable of eventually running the food bank portion of New Haven. He said it will be a salary position and is necessary because of how much the group has grown in recent years.
“We just try to meet the needs that we see,” he said. “The slack has to be picked up somewhere.”
For more information on the job or to donate, contact Rhodes at 940-452-1784 or visit Helping Hands office on SW 3rd Street.