WACO, Texas (KWTX) Caritas, a Catholic charity in Waco, is a safe harbor in a sea of hard times for people who are down on their luck, but one woman says it was her lifeline as she struggled to feed her children.
Caritas, and other local food pantries throughout Central Texas are the primary beneficiaries of food gathered during the annual Food for Families drive sponsored by KWTX, this year celebrating 30 years of filling pantries.
Tracie West, a U.S. Army veteran, volunteers at Caritas every day, but not too long ago she went there to get food and clothing for her children, the only way they survived, she says today.
“When I first came I was just out of the military and I was a broken veteran,” she said, fighting back tears as she spoke.
Her children are grown now, but she said she’ll neither forget nor be able to repay, what Food for Families and Caritas did for her, and that’s why she’s working to pay it forward today.
West, 59, spent 12 years in the Army, a single mom, and said her part at Caritas today is vitally important because “I know how bad I needed help and there are so many who need that kind of help today.
Caritas serves somewhere around 2,500 families-a-month, multiplied to 30,000 annually.
It’s a big job and one most who benefit don’t take lightly, like Richard Hawkins, also an Army veteran, who runs the clothing warehouse at Caritas today.
He also still benefits from food and clothing he gets from Caritas.
Hawkins, 59, served in the 3rd Infantry Division, the time honored “Old Guard.”
Just down the hall Briana Rodriguez runs the food warehouse where folks come in all day long, fill grocery carts and head home to feed their families.
The warehouse is stacked with pallets of potatoes and onions, boxes of staples like rice, beans and flower and can-after-can of food.
It looks like a lot, but that warehouse is only a small version of the real one that’s several times that size, Rodriguez, 23, said.
The staff runs deliveries between warehouses all day long to ensure goods are available when they’re needed.
When he came back to Waco (he was born here and attended high school at La Vega) he fell on tough times and finally found his way to Caritas, where he eventually went to work meeting the needs of others.
He was busy the day he spoke because just minutes earlier Wacom police officers showed up in a rush with a young woman they’d found sleeping on the street, where temperatures dipped into the mid-20s overnight and it was rainy.
She needed help.
“She’d been on the streets all night and when we found her she was very cold and hungry and had soiled herself,” one of the officers who was involved said.
“We brought her here and she’s getting some clean, dry, and much warmer clothes and we’ll get her fed, too.”
It was Hawkins who saw to her clothing and got her a shower.
“It’s a mission. It’s a ministry, simple as that,” said Tammy Stevens, director of client services for Caritas.
She pretty much “runs the show,” Caritas executive director Buddy Edwards said.
Her job really is but a labor of love for her as it mainly involves meeting people, learning their needs and directing them to someone who can help them.
“It’s very rewarding.”