Orange County “Food Blitz” fills OCS food pantry
Next month the 4th annual April Food Blitz begins. The food drive helps Orange Christian Services stretch their funds. In January, OCS had to spend over $9,000 on food. Jensen said OCS is the largest food pantry in Orange County; according to the Southeast Texas Food Bank. “A lot of food goes out of here.”
In January, 833 families in crisis came through their doors with an average of 48 a day. For the entire year of 2010, 9,145 families were given aid consisting of food, clothes and sometimes financial assistance for housing and utilities.
OCS was founded in 1979 and is made up of 43 churches from 10 different denominations. Located at 2518 Park Ave., the organization is housed in what was once the local YMCA.
The program is run mostly with volunteer help. Jensen said they have a small staff of four people. Volunteers number 60-70. “We have a different group of volunteers that come in each day of the week.”
“We are first and foremost a food pantry,” said Judy Jensen, director of OCS. “We have a very large food pantry and we help anybody in Orange County. It doesn’t matter what part of Orange County they live in.” Jensen said when the food is available at the Southeast Texas Food Bank, a $25 donation will purchase 400 pounds of food.
Also available is financial assistance for emergency medical and dental needs. Help is also available with prescriptions. “Certain kinds we cannot assist with,” said Jensen. “When funds are available, we help with past due rent and past due utilities.”
Where most charitable organizations are seeing a decline in donations, OCS is holding its own. “We’re staying at a good place right now. We are watching everything and are in prayer that we don’t see a decline.” So far, they haven’t cut back on any services.“The first time someone walks through our door and they need food and/or clothing, all they have to do is come up to the front window and tell us their name and show us their picture I.D.
“When they’re interviewed that first time, they are told that the next time they will need to bring a picture I.D.; Social Security cards for all members of the household; and proof of Orange County residence.” A current utility bill or lease agreement in their name is acceptable.
Also needed is proof of income or any financial assistance that anyone in the household receives. If they can’t work due to a medical disability, proof is also needed.
“Now the first time they come in and they need financial assistance, then we require all of that the first day before we can help. That’s just us being good stewards of the money received,” said Jensen.
For food, clothes, prescription and medical/dental assistance; you just walk in; sign in at the front desk; and wait to be interviewed for assistance that day. For rent or utility assistance, they work by appointment only.
Jensen explained the funds they receive to help with past due rent and utilities comes from private foundations and there is certain criteria that has to be met for assistance to be granted.
“The thing that is hard for clients to understand is that it has to be a crisis or emergency situation, not a chronic ongoing situation.
“It would be an emergency if your utilities were getting ready to be turned off or you were getting evicted.”
OCS has to go one step further and find out what has happened in the last 30 to 60 that caused the client to not have the money to pay their rent are utilities.
“Often times it’s not that they’re not working–something has happened. There may be car repairs, they may have had to buy a lot of medicine and we have to have the documentation.”
Sometimes it is the loss of a job or a gap in unemployment benefits.
“Our goal, each day, is to help as many people as we can and it hurts our hearts when we can’t.” Income guidelines also have to be met. “For some of the grants we go 125 percent of the poverty income. Every once and a while, someone’s over that and our hands are tied. That’s not a fun time, because they definitely have a need.
Occasionally, Jensen said, someone will come in that far exceeds the income limits. “We’re gonna go ahead and help them that day, but we’re gonna explain to them that most of our people don’t make a third of that.
“We know that when we help, it’s not solving the long term problem; we’re just kinda giving a hand up.”
The OCS 4th annual April Food Blitz begins April 2. The stores have been asked to pack small bags that will cost in the $5-10 range and will be filled with foods OCS normally has to buy. Customers can also pick up slips that will tell them the food items needed, where they are located and how much they cost, if they prefer to buy one or two items instead.
The dates and locations for the Blitz are as follows:
April 2–H.E.B. in Orange.
April 9–Market Basket on 16th Street.
April 16–Kroger on 16th Street
Volunteers will be available to accept donations 10 a.m.-3 p.m. each Saturday. There will be no collections on April 23 because it is Easter weekend.
OCS is open to service clients 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-noon Fridays. They are closed the last Friday of each month.
If someone is interested in becoming a volunteer, they can contact Jensen at 409-886-0938 to set up an appointment to come in and tour the facility.
“Of course we are a 501(c)(3). Everything is given away. There is no charge for anything.”