Local church to give out Thanksgiving to poor

Allison Harris

 With almost 18 percent of the city’s approximately 750,000 residents living in poverty, a local church is registering families to receive Thanksgiving care packages for the 21st year as part of the organization’s ongoing efforts to fight hunger.

The El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission registered an additional 444 families for its Hands for Hope charity program Saturday to pick up Thanksgiving care packages on Nov. 19, which brings the total number to 844. The church plans to have another registration drive to reach its goal of 1,400 families, said Communication Coordinator Ivan Dávila. Dávila said the Thanksgiving holiday highlights stark income inequalities.

“We are sitting at the table with an abundance of food on Thanksgiving, but there might be people who don’t have that,” Dávila said. “I will feel so much better, sitting at the table, seeing all the abundance of food on Thanksgiving, knowing that I did what I could to help those in need.”

An estimated 17.5 percent of Austin residents live below the federal poverty level, according to 2005-2009 American Community Survey estimates. This is higher than the state value of 16.8 percent during the same period and the U.S. Census 2009 national poverty rate of 14.3 percent.

Dávila said the number of new clients visiting the mission’s food pantry has doubled in the past three months, up to an average of 60 new clients every week for the past month and a half. Poverty and hunger affect more people than is commonly assumed, he said.

“People often think the face of poverty is homelessness, and that’s not the case,” Dávila said. “Our families are working or recently lost their job due to extenuating circumstances.”

About 65 staff members and volunteers screened applicants and input data from those who registered. To qualify, an individual had to show proof of address, a birth certificate and proof that household income was at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $22,314 of annual income for a family of four, the average household size of people served by El Buen’s food pantry.

Miranda Tacoronti, a UT graduate curriculum and instruction student, said the Thanksgiving program helps people feel more integrated into mainstream U.S. society, especially recent Hispanic immigrants.

“They come to this society, and they’re told Thanksgiving dinner is such this big deal, but then they don’t have the money to buy the food,” Tacoronti said. “They feel like that’s one more way that they’re not able to be able to incorporate into society.”

Antonia Ramirez, a housecleaner from Dale, said receiving the Thanksgiving care package will allow her to celebrate without worrying about how it will impact her ability to pay bills.

“The thought comes to mind of not being able to afford a Thanksgiving meal because of having to pay bills, and that thought is sad,” Ramirez said. “I see it as a blessing being able to share this with my friends and family, being able to have a Thanksgiving meal.”

Printed on Monday, October 31, 2011 as: Local church aims to give out Thanksgiving meals to poor