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In Belton, food pantry sees a growing need

Patrick McGee stands at the back of his ’80s model Honda Civic, the hatchback open, eyeing the bags upon bags of food inside.

Spaghetti sauce, ramen noodles, cereal, sweet potatoes, yogurt and gobs more. There’s enough food in his trunk to feed his family of four for many days.

“This will definitely make the kids happy,” says McGee, 28.

He comes to the Heart-n-Hand food pantry in Belton to get food that supplements what he and his wife can buy for their children. She works full time, and he works as a cook whenever he can. Some weeks he gets 10 hours, some just six.

“At the end of the month, we wonder what we’re going to eat next,” he says. “We make sure the kids eat before we do.”

Each Friday, the Belton pantry hands out bags of food to families like the McGees, senior citizens, anyone who needs help. Heart-n-Hand started out of a closet in the Belton Assembly of God 14 years ago and now is run out of a ranch home.

The need is so great, says manager Rick Dawson, he could use a place twice this size and give out five times as much food.

Volunteers come in every week to fill requests. Some work as case managers, while others form a makeshift assembly line in the garage, picking items from shelves and stuffing bags.

Every 15 minutes or so, a family comes in, and before long a slip of paper is delivered to the garage, telling volunteers how many people need food.

“We have a family of five,” one hollers out, alerting the crew to start picking and packing.

Cans of corn go in a bag. SpaghettiOs, canned fruit, toothpaste.

“When there’s kids, we give extra macaroni and cheese,” volunteer Lynn Conine says. “ By now I know some of the families and who likes what.”

The pantry provides food for at least 100 families a month. In the last year, Dawson has seen more parents needing food for their children.

“We’re seeing more and more of the middle class that are needing assistance,” Dawson says. “That’s the new face of the poor. That’s what we see.”

The pantry runs on donations and a few grants. Harvesters helps with produce every Friday. Most everything on the shelves — the pasta and sauces, vegetables and cereals — comes from Belton residents and grocery stores.

“If I don’t do anything else in this county, it’s to make sure no one goes hungry,” Dawson says.

Before long, a volunteer brings in another slip of paper. A mother and her two little children need food.

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