More families relying on food pantry services during the holiday season Special to the Journal As the holiday season approaches, Executive Director Alicia Jallah of Helping Hands Ministry in Belton sheds light on the increasing number of families in need of their services. This year’s annual Food for Families Food Drive will be on November 17. Over the past few months, the organization has witnessed a dramatic rise in demand, with more than 575 households seeking assistance every week. In August alone, 211 new families sought groceries from the pantry, indicating a persistent trend expected to continue through the end of the year. To address the growing need, Jallah said they are expecting to provide 1,000 holiday meals, 500 for Thanksgiving and 500 for Christmas. This entails not only offering traditional holiday fixings, but also replenishing the Helping Hands food pantry for the families who rely on it for their day-to-day needs. “Our goal is to supply protein along with an assortment of sides and fixings, granting families the freedom to choose according to their preferences,” Jallah said. The pantry is facing their own challenges in food distributions due to the rising costs of food, and serving more than 575 households each week. Families who qualify for Helping Hands assistance can receive food from the pantry once per week. The amount of food they receive is based on family size, and food available at the pantry. To qualify for food assistance from Helping Hands, residents of Belton, Academy, and Holland ISDs must pre-register with proof of residency. This ensures a smooth and organized process while allowing the pantry to effectively meet the needs of the community. After conducting a survey among their neighbors, Jallah shared that the results uncovered the main reason for the influx of new families seeking assistance was the rising costs at grocery stores. Due to the extraordinary hot summer many families struggled between prioritizing buying basic sufficient groceries and paying utility bills to keep the lights on and water running. Most families using the pantry have at least one family member who works. Other problems contributing to food insecurity include being disabled or being on government assistance with limited incomes. “As a team, we are small but mighty, with nine dedicated employees. Each month, we distribute over 50,000 pounds of food, thanks to the hard work of our warehouse manager and part-time staff members,” Jallah said. ”In addition to food assistance, we also offer low-cost options for clothing, shoes, housewares, kitchenware, and limited financial aid. When needed, we refer individuals to other service providers if we are unable to meet their specific needs.” Additionally, the pantry provides weekend bags of food for approximately 200 children, recognizing that self-sufficiency is not always attainable for every family. Helping Hands is affiliated with a food bank based in Austin, which is connected to the national program Feeding America. Through their partnership, they receive USDA commodities and resources, as well as pick up surplus food from local food distribution chains such as H-E-B and Walmart. This allows them to provide a variety of groceries, including items that are close to expiration or may have cosmetic imperfections but are still safe to consume. The food drive/pantry accepts anything non-perishable, unopened, and in-date. They encourage items such as cereal, canned fruits, canned soups, canned vegetables, juice, granola bars, applesauce, kid-friendly snacks, baby food, peanut butter, canned meat, seasonings, flour, and sugar. Multiple schools, businesses, churches and non-profit organizations within the community will take part in collecting food donations for the pantry. Individuals and families are also encouraged to drop off food donations. With increased participation expected, Jallah hopes to gather a substantial amount of food to sustain their services throughout the holiday season and beyond. The Boy Scouts of America, H-E-B, and KWTX 10, are sponsoring the food drive. Food donations for the holiday season can be dropped off at Helping Hands Ministry of Belton at 2210 Holland Road, Belton, between 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., on Nov. 17. For more information on how you can donate or help throughout the year contact helpinghandsbelton.org or call (254) 939-7355 The pantry is open Monday from 12-6pm, Wednesday from 10 am-4 pm, and Thursday from 10 am-4pm for families who need to get groceries.