Partner Agency Spotlight: Community Link Mission
Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) is able to provide food for children, families and seniors across North Texas with the help of 270 Partner Agencies in 13 counties. One of these dedicated agencies is Community Link Mission in Saginaw, Texas. Karen Fuller has been executive director of Community Link Mission for 8 1/2 years. In the interview below, Karen shares more about the organization, its services and what motivates her to do this work.
What services does Community Link Mission provide to the community? Emergency food, SNAP assistance, Medicare enrollment, Cooking Matters courses, employment assistance, Christmas food and gifts for children, back-to-school events, dental and vision care events. We try to get a picture of how every family is doing and what their needs are when they come in.
What communities do you serve? We serve individuals and families in the ZIP codes 76179, 76135, 76131, 76137, 76177, 76052, and 76114.
How many people are on staff at Community Link Mission? We only have three paid staff and 400-500 volunteers depending on the time of year and what we’re up to. So it’s a volunteer army. A lot of our volunteers get out of bed in the morning because they have a purpose to be here. Our volunteers are all the way from age 13 to 88. That 88-year-old will work you under the table. I’m just warning you.
What drives you to do the work that you’re doing? The thought of people going to bed hungry is just more than I can handle. I don’t take a very active role in the front of the house—I don’t interview clients much—but I know all of them and I know their stories and it’s their stories that drive me. So even on days when it would be really easy to give up, I can’t. How do you?
How many people are served on average during food distribution? During the first week of the month, we could easily serve 100 families a day. For a lot of our clients, the first part of the month is pretty slim. We are very generous in what we give to families. Most families get in the neighborhood of 150 to 200 pounds of food. If you go to the grocery store and buy 200 pounds of food, you’ve just dropped some money.
Does Tarrant Area Food Bank provide the fresh produce that Community Link Mission distributes? A lot of it we get through grocery stores connected to TAFB’s Store Donation Program. When we have fennel or something that not everybody cooks with, we’ll ask our clients if they want it and if they say, “I don’t know what to do with it,” we say, “Well, this is what you do with it.” We give them recipes, we try to instruct. A lot of them come back later and go “I never had eaten that, but it was really good.” That’s important.
Why do you think having fresh produce is so beneficial? It’s healthier. A lot of our clients are diabetic and don’t know how to cook. A lot of our young families will take their last $10 and drive through a fast food restaurant to buy junk food for the whole family. Not only is it more economical for our clients to learn to cook healthier, the long-term health benefits are very, very important. At my house, we eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and we eat meat like it’s a condiment. It’s just healthier. I want to eat that way at my house and if I can provide that for our clients, it’s what I want to do.
How has the holiday season impacted your services or the way that you’ve worked? We always have emphasized Christmas more than Thanksgiving. In the first couple weeks of December, our clients get to come for their regular groceries and then they come for our Christmas event and get much more.
Why do you think it’s important for people to support Tarrant Area Food Bank not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year? Well, one of my famous quotes in this community is “We love it that you guys think about feeding people in the holiday season, however, our clients eat year round.” I say that a lot to remind people. You guys are scouring the bushes year round—we are—because the need does not go away in the holiday season.
Join us in the fight against hunger this holiday season and beyond. Learn more in our blog post on the Top Needs at Tarrant Area Food Bank.