The number of families who received services from The Caring Place in 2012 was more than 200 more than the preceding year.
The number of homeless served increased by 31 from 188 in 2011 to 219 in 2012.
A total of 162 tons, or 324,000 pounds, of food was given out in 2012 between the two parties.
Most of the food is donated between the Feed America program or purchased at a steep discount at the Food Bank of Chattanooga.
Food Warehouse manager Sheila McElhaney maintains community donations are a significant help.
“The food drives definitely benefit [The Caring Place],” McElhaney said. “They supplement what we purchase. It is a small percentage when you consider what we purchase, but yes, they help tremendously.”
An upcoming food drive for TCP by the Surgery Center of Cleveland is set to begin today through Sept. 18. There will be an open house on the 18th from 3 to 6 p.m. Those interested in attending the open house may tour the facilties, donate food items and be entered for door prizes.
Members of the community are encouraged to participate in the local effort by dropping off food items. Food items often in demand include: cooking oil (in plastic bottles); sugar (5-pound bags or smaller); coffee; canned meats (tuna, chicken, Spam, etc.); peanut butter; boxed dinners like “Complete Meals;” powdered milk; pasta and pasta sauce; rice; and dry beans.
Items may be dropped off during the center’s normal business hours, Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday from 7 a.m. to noon. A representative from the center explained the food drive is an opportunity for personnel to give back to the community.
Food drives are often put on by different businesses and churches in the community from midfall through Christmas. McElhaney explained the drives usually slow down from late winter through spring and into summer.
The Caring Place provides food for the homeless, individuals and families who qualify. Individuals, either homeless or not, can visit the food warehouse once a month. Families can visit up to twice a month.
McElhaney said the need of those in Bradley County and Cleveland is very real.
“There are people who have done everything in their power and can’t make it work. Maybe they are disabled or elderly. Maybe they are mentally unable to make things work,” McElhaney said. “Then there is another category of people who have lost their job or some major catastrophe has happened.”
Added McElhaney, “A small percentage of people might try to take advantage of us.”
A registration process along with programs like Charity Check make it difficult to try to wrongfully take advantage of the system.
The average number of visits by a client is four, far less than the 12 allotted for individuals and the 24 for families.
McElhaney explained a majority of clients say they only come when they really need some extra help. Sometimes she wonders how families are making it by, especially when they are only using the TCP services once every couple of months.
One meal is placed in the bags of food given out to families and individuals with their own place of residence. Some of the items found in a recent food bag held the following: cereal, Moon Pies, sugar cookies mix, granola bars, peanut butter, spaghetti and sauce, macaroni and cheese, vegetable soup, a recipe starter, corn, peas and diced tomatoes.
The homeless are given a box of mostly dry items which do not require refrigeration. Some of the items found in the boxes include: beef jerky, cereal, peanut butter, water, instant coffee, crackers and spam. Plastic spoons are included in the boxes. Sometimes the client does not make it out of the warehouse before they rip into their bag or box.
“A lot of the homeless are living on someone’s couch because there are a lot of good people in this town who can’t stand the thought of this person they know sleeping in their car or out in the open,” McElhaney said. “So they will say, ‘You can come here and sleep on my couch. You need to get your own food, but you can use the kitchen.’”
Both parties have the option of receiving items like small candy, bread or meat.
McElhaney stressed TCP is not the answer. The nonprofit’s helping hand is, “only here to supplement what the people already have.” Which in some cases is not much.
Items for the food drive at the Surgery Center of Cleveland can be dropped off the week of Sept. 16 at 137 25th St. N.E. More information on food drives for TCP can be found by calling 472-4414.