By GREG RUSSELL
Register Staff Writer
Annual donation drives have recently made November the most beneficial month for one local food bank — and as in years past, this bank needs all the deposits it can get.
Volunteers In Service to Others (VISTO) Executive Director Michelle Baldwin said the regular Gainesville Fire Department drive begins Monday and extends through Nov. 18. On Nov. 19, she added, the donated food will be delivered to schools coordinating with VISTO efforts.
But an annual drive typically conducted at Gainesville’s Walmart is expected not to happen this year due to store remodeling, and the 2013 influx of food and money looks to fall short of 2012 totals.
“It’s running less than last year, because last year, things were happening where people gave extra,” Baldwin said Wednesday, citing grants and special donations to VISTO’s “Backpack Buddy” program. “The community stepped forward and filled that gap for us and it was just an awesome thing to see.”
The director’s verdict for this year’s progress, she said, is just “OK.” The special monies of 2012 weren’t expected this year, VISTO’s emergency budget has held sturdy, and October has been long established as the organization’s slowest month.
But as the holiday season looms, VISTO’s biggest challenge remains in honoring a directive to never turn away locals in need.
“In terms of clients coming in, we’ve seen a significant increase, just this last couple weeks,” Baldwin said. “And it’s not any particular thing, because we always ask clients, ‘What brought you here today?’ So there’s no particular thing where something happened and I can say, ‘That’s why we’ve seen all these extra people.’”
VISTO’s consistent annual trend is that most of the organization’s thousands of visitors are isolated cases. Roughly 80 percent of the clients are local residents who only need the organization’s help a single time or only once every few years. Most of them are people sustaining problems that are temporary, such as unemployment or an emergency lack of funds.
“If there’s a good support system, they’re not going to be there long,” Baldwin said earlier in 2013.
But Baldwin said her other 20 percent are people trapped in the cycle of facing multiple problems at once, the kind which may also require the intervention of Abigail’s Arms. Common debilitating factors include not only poverty but domestic violence, chronic health problems, mental health issues and a simple lack of education.
“A lot of our clients don’t have good education or a support system,” she said earlier this year. “Or they have a support system, but it’s one based on survival and not being able to go beyond that. And so every other issue that comes in is another setback.”
During November, VISTO generally receives between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds in donated food. The organization is also still a beneficiary of Cooke County United Way, which is helpful. Baldwin added that her food bank received 48 turkeys from the Salvation Army on Tuesday, all earmarked for holiday clients.
“Life here’s just a daily challenge,” she said Wednesday. ‘But we have a great community.”
For more information about VISTO, call (940) 668-6403 or visit www.vistohelps.com.