From the moment I walked into the Irving Care Center, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. When I saw Christine sitting at the help desk with a basket full of groceries I sized her up in short order. Shirt $50. Nice earrings. $500 wig. Cell phone. She didn’t have the quintessential “food bank” vibe that I was looking for in order to make myself feel good.
While we talked, she applied for assistance with her electric bill and about two weeks worth of staple groceries. Flour, milk, eggs, cereal and yes, pigs feet.
She told me her story. Surgery on her leg ran her out of sick days, and she became behind on her bills. By dialing 411 and asking for monetary and food help, she was routed to the Irving Care Center- a 501C3 that takes in approximately 1.3 million dollars in cash and food donations per year. A concerned citizens group in Irving, Texas, founded the center 55 years ago to alleviate hunger in their city.
In 2011 the Irving Care Center’s biggest sources of funding were Individual donations $351,996, Corporations $350,417, and In-kind food donations $258,223. They accepted $48,657 in grants on the municipal level which originated federally. Eight full-time employees are supported on 8% of that budget. Another 10% is spent on fundraising efforts. The remaining 82% goes to those who ask for assistance.
Christine’s electric bill was taken care of for the month. If she needed it, assistance with rent would be available once in a lifetime, but she would need to take a financial responsibility course to receive it.
She let me follow her home. Her car is a blue Kia Sephia in pretty good shape. Driving behind her I thought of ways to spin the story, to lie in order to help people feel better about helping someone in need. I had always imagined the person getting the food that I donated to be a starving child, or well... a starving child. That’s all I really ever pictured.
Christine’s apartment was decent. There was a TV, nice dining table, microwave, treadmill, and cool art on the walls. This didn’t compute. An open Bible sat on her counter, turned to Psalms.
She unpacked the groceries. The bag of cereal was one of the bags that Mercury One donated. The truck from Mercury One’s Restoring Love event came yesterday and delivered enough food to stock the entire pantry for two weeks. It was the biggest donation that the Irving Care Center had received all year.
The pigs’ feet were from a local grocer who freezes the meat just prior to expiration and donates it to the center weekly. Several bread stores do the same with their inventory that is about to get out of date.
“What do you do if it get’s out of date?” I asked.
“Well, if it’s still good, we feed the people. We’re protected by good Samaritan laws that prohibit lawsuits for well intended people who feed the needy,” answered the volunteer coordinator.
I stood in Christine’s kitchen and learned about her family. I looked at pictures of her husband ,who passed away three years ago, and her four grandkids. She is going back to work tomorrow for the first time in two weeks. She confided that asking for help was awkward, but she needed it and didn’t know where to turn. I looked at her Bible and thought of the Good Samaritan, who didn’t ask if the injured man was poor, he just knew that a man was in need.
She turned to the people, people that she didn’t know and who didn’t know her. She wasn’t always poor, nor would she be. It was a down time for Christine and private Americans helped her. Corporate donations helped her. Churches and the United Way helped her. Less than four percent of the funding that the Irving Care Center comes from the government.
Below is a slideshow of images from my trip with Christine