While the impact of COVID-19 certainly has been felt this year, the mission of the Burnet County Hunger Alliance remains the same as it has since the organization was founded four years ago — to put an end to hunger and food insecurity in the Highland Lakes area.
September is Hunger Awareness Month in Burnet County, where between 15 to 16 percent of residents live in situations where there was a time in the previous year they had difficulty meeting their food needs — a condition which the United States Department of Agriculture refers fa ay, to there’s as “food no insecurity.” room By Hunger about the omise. is defined as the inability very to meet tough nutritional market” needs with available resources.
Meanwhile, 25 percent of all Burnet County children live in a food-insecure home, while up to 74 percent of all Burnet County residents are eligible for some income-based aid, such as WIC (Women, Infants and Children), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, free or reduced school meals, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) or The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
Members of the Burnet County Hunger Alliance, which began in July 2016, include food pantries, community kitchens, school administrators, elected officials, area leaders, small business owners, churches and active citizens who have committed to end hunger in Burnet County. The Hunger Alliance helps coordinate and direct people to existing resources and find gaps in services.
There are three main agencies in the north end of Burnet County which serve as resources to provide food as part of the Hunger Alliance — Lakes Area Care Inc. (LACare) in Burnet; Vanderveer Street Church of Christ Community Kitchen in Burnet; and the Bertram Food Pantry in Bertram.
LACare executive director Lottie McCorkle said the pandemic has had an impact on their operations, forcing them to go to curbside service only, but “we’re hanging in there like everybody else.”
The food pantry, located on the grounds of Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church at 507 Buchanan Drive, Burnet, distributes groceries, meat, bread and produce to needy families within the Burnet CISD area from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday.
“We are still handing out the same amount of groceries as we were handing out before and we have not decreased what we distribute,” McCorkle said. “We do have enough groceries right now to serve our clients. People still have been making donations monetarily and in groceries and we are still getting groceries as we have been from the Central Texas Food Bank.
“We are in need of volunteers to help us, but the main thing we need people to know is that we are here to help.”
McCorkle said the number of clients being served by the food pantry diminished once the pandemic started due to fears about COVID-19, but those numbers have gone back up in recent weeks.
“We are servicing a few more clients than we were before now. A lot of the people we serve are elderly and they had issues with getting transportation to come to us. Now they are able to get out and are feeling more comfortable about coming to us, even though we are only providing curbside service.”
McCorkle said she has noticed that by not being able to have clients come inside to receive donations, there has been some negative impact to how the pantry can serve the needs of these individuals.
“The one-on-one personal contact is not there, like being able to help with other services they don’t know we have information about and resources for, because by talking to them, we would know what they might need,” McCorkle said.
“Also, we have always in the past allowed people to choose what they wanted to receive. Now, with having to do prebagged donations curbside, our customers are not able to get choices they way they may want to. We hope one day to be able to get back to doing that again, whatever becomes our new normal.”
For more information about LACare, go online to lacareburnet.org or call 512-756-4422.
Pastor Tim Denton of the Vanderveer Street Church of Christ (102 Vanderveer St., Burnet) said the Community Kitchen was shut down for nearly five months since the end of March before just reopening at the beginning of September. Known for serving a hot,
Known for serving a hot, sit-down weekly community meal each Thursday evening from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. since 2009, the Community Kitchen has scaled back to doing takeout only, Denton said.
“We were putting together as much as 125 meals per week previously, but now that we have shut down for a few months, our numbers are way down from that right now,” Denton said.
“We plan to open to those who want to come in and eat very soon. One of the ingredients in making this ministry successful was the time some people had to socialize while they were here. There were groups who would come in a little after 4 p.m. and not leave until well after 5 p.m. just because they wanted to sit in a place that was comfortable and be able to visit.”
Denton said generous donations from a number of local families have helped underwrite the service, so “we don’t need any funds at this time, but just support from the community that would like to gather with us for a free meal. We are just grateful for opportunity to serve.”
Several congregations combine together to continue the vision first began by JoAnn Thomas and her husband more than a decade ago. On the first and third week of each month, a group from the Epiphany Episcopal Church heads up the community meal, while the second and fourth Thursdays are coordinated by Vanderveer Church of Christ. Fifth Thursdays are headed up by Theresa Griggs. First United Methodist Church ladies provide the desserts each week.
For more information about the Community Kitchen, call 512-756-2253.
Bertram Food Pantry
Bertram Food Pantry director Janet Widmer used downtime from the COVID-19 pandemic to make some improvements to the pantry, which is located behind Holy Cross Catholic Church of Ranch to Market Road 1174 in Bertram, and is open every Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
“We took everything out of the pantry except for the walls and shelves,” Widmer said. “We sanitized and cleaned everything and laid down a new floor and repainted the pantry. We also planted a garden outside with eight large, raised beds.
“The thought process was originally to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to our customers, but now, because we cannot have so many people come inside, people can come and plant and work the soil for us and it serves as a great stress reliever. We currently have peppers, okra and tomatoes growing in our garden and we hope that next year, it will be even bigger.”
Widmer said the pantry is starting to see more clients and plans are being made to open up one evening a week as well for those who cannot get there during regular hours.
“We have also seen an increase in the sizes of the families we serve because a lot of people have lost jobs and so now they are moving in together with their family,” Widmer said. “In the past, we may have seen families who had four to five people and now are trying to feed six to eight or more. It’s tough because they still can’t get back to work.”
Among the items the pantry needs currently are potatoes, milk and canned tomatoes as these items have a great number of uses, so they fly off the shelves faster than other staples.
“We need canned or dried potatoes and canned or powdered milk as well as all diffferent kinds of canned tomatoes,” she said. “People are always needing them for making soups or chili or porridges and so we are constantly running out of those items.”
Widmer, who has been overseeeing the Bertram Food Pantry now for nearly three years, said anyone interested in donating to the pantry or finding out more about how to get assistance can call her cell phone at 512-619-9050.