By RANDY GONZALES
The Community Assistance Center sends out Christmas food boxes every year to those in need.
But the local nonprofit organization assists individuals and families in need of its services not just at the holidays, but year-round.
"We have a pretty steady flow all year," said Laurie Mortinger, one of two directors at the Center. "We see more people who come in who are seniors during the holiday time, that usually don't come in any other time.
"They will come sign up for the Christmas food boxes, but they don't come in any other time of year. I think just more pride in them."
Christmas food boxes are distributed just before Christmas to those who have signed up. The client has a choice between a ham or turkey; also in the box is a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a box of stuffing, a cake mix, dinner rolls, green beans and corn.
The center buys the food the morning boxes are handed out. The boxes -- which cost $40 each -- are paid for through donations to the center. On average, approximately 425 Christmas boxes are distributed each year, but this year the total is closer to 450.
The center serves approximately 5,500 clients each year.
"We did 125 food orders last month," Mortinger said. "That's the highest we've ever done."
"We had the most (clients) ever last month, in 27 years," added Theresa Hill, the center's other director, and whose mother helped get the organization started. "Last month, over 500 people came through."
According to a Community Assistance Center brochure, in December 1983, the Referred Collective Distribution Center was established in Ellis County to help coordinate the distribution of food, toys and other items to lower-income families for Christmas.
The next year, RCDC changed its name to Community Assistance Center and moved to its present facility, at 12th and Oak. The center is a nonprofit organization that receives funding entirely through private donations. No funding comes from United Way or from any state or federal agency.
The center relies on garage sales the first and third Tuesdays of each month to help with funding. Food donations come from two primary sources -- items left for mail carriers on a designated day in May and items donated at Halloween during the "Trick or Treat So Others Can Eat" event.
"As fast as it comes in, it goes out," Hill said.
The Halloween food drive came just in the nick of time.
"We were practically empty, maybe a dozen cans, right before the Halloween food drive," Hill said. "We were really low."
Clients can sign up to receive a food donation four times a year, or in case of an emergency.
But also available are clothes, kitchen items and other items for around the house, including furniture. Clients can shop free for clothes once a month.
Mortinger said what is in short supply at the present time are children's coats, blankets, good pots and pans and new children's underwear.
The center -- open 7:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday -- accepts monetary donations or donations of food, clothing or household items.
On a recent morning there were volunteers getting ready for the next day's garage sale. One of the almost 50 volunteers at the center is Jane Schumacher, who helps on Mondays and Thursdays.
"We mark stuff (for sale) that's on the shelves and tables," she said.
Schumacher enjoys giving back to the community.
"What the heck, I just love it," she said.
Without the help from the people of Ellis County, the Community Assistance Center would not exist.
"We couldn't do it," Mortinger said. "The people of Ellis County are very generous.
"I think of all the people we serve, and where would they go if we weren't here."