As many as 1,500 people seek out assistance form Hill Country Community Ministries (HCCM) each month, but to the staff and volunteers, each individual is special.
“Everyone has a story,” said executive director Tiesa Hollaway, who likes to remind people that need is not limited to a certain type of person or situation. “Sometimes this is the hardest thing people have to do is walk through these doors and ask for help. We try to make them feel as valuable as we can. Our volunteers are amazing.”
The need has grown as 77 brand new families were served in August and 63 new families in September.
According to initial numbers, the increase was 44 percent from October 2015 to this October.
For 33 years HCCM has been serving locals in need, from groceries to shoes for children to a clothes closet.
Hollaway said she never knows where the need will come from.
“I got a call last week from a teacher who said she had a child in fourth grade whose shoes were being held together by duct tape,” she said.
Currently, the organization is doing its annual coat drive, and in the summer they do a fan drive. But grocery assistance is the biggest part of what is done on a regular basis. Clients come once a month for groceries with a list based on the size of their family.
“We save families as least $125 per month by providing these groceries,” Hollaway said. “We also have donations that allow us to give people milk, eggs, bread and vegetables when they are extra.
“The other day we had apples. I’ve been here a year and I think that’s the first time we’ve had apples. That’s a treat. For us every day its something we pick up at the grocery store, but for them it’s a treat and it is awesome to share with people.”
In addition to the regular groceries, this time of year clients get their choice of a free holiday meal as well.
“Our clients get to come in and get to select a meal from now until the middle of December, and either take a turkey meal – its turkey and dressing and gravy, corn, basically a whole holiday meal – and they can do it for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” she said.
Another new food program recently kicked off is Fresh Food Fridays, where HCCM takes food out to the community, currently testing the plan in Jonestown.
“On the second Friday of every month we take our new refrigerated truck and we get out to the parts of the community that has trouble getting to us,” Holloway said. “One of the number one issues we have in this area is public transportation. We serve 10 zip codes.”
The area served includes Liberty Hill, Leander, Cedar Park, Lago Vista, Jonestown and almost to the Arboretum in North Austin.
“Some of these areas seem to be higher end, but there are still pockets of people who have that need,” she said.
Having been with HCCM for just over a year, what remains a challenge for Hollaway is helping people understand the local need.
“My number one job has been community outreach,” she said. “We’ve been doing what we’ve been doing for 33 years but there wasn’t a lot of outreach. We needed to tell people where they can get the services, that we’re here and reminding people we have that need in our community.”
Throughout the area, there are a growing number of homeless people and people living in their cars.
“People are shocked,” she said of when she explains the extent of the problem. “’I live out of my car’ people say. It’s heartbreaking because we have families like this, but where do they go? We try to provide resources. We don’t do any financial (assistance), we don’t have any housing obviously, but we can put them in touch with other organizations that can help them with that, but in our area there’s just not anywhere for them to live.”
The occasional attitude about the type of people who find themselves in need can also be an issue.
“Most of the people we serve here are the working poor,” Hollaway said. “These people are working, people trying to make ends meet and they just can’t make enough. You have to think of the cost of living. Where are you going to find an apartment here for less than $1,000 a month. That’s the challenge.”
People taking advantage of the system is always an issue, but one Hollaway says should never impact an organization’s ability to help those in need.
“What I have learned over the years is there’s always a 15-20 percent of the population that will lie, cheat and manipulate the system, but the thing about it is they will always do that, no matter what rules you put in place,” she said. “Our focus is on that other 80 percent that need our services.”
Anyone interested in donating time, resources or money to the programs provided by HCCM should go to the organization’s website www.hccm.org for the most current needs and opportunities.
For those with no plans for Thanksgiving, the first-ever community Thanksgiving dinner is set for two servings at Leander Church of Christ, 300 Crystal Falls Pkwy., and is open to anyone at no charge.
“This is for anyone in our community who wants a meal and fellowship,” Hollaway said. “You don’t have to be in need, this is just to share the spirit of Thanksgiving.”
Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP online at www.eventbrite.com. Food donations and volunteers are also welcome.