KILLEEN, Texas - Fort Hood Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation donated 250 pounds of food to the Food Care Center here Jan. 6.
The contribution is part of a 700-pound donation, most of which was collected from Fort Hood and surrounding communities attending the annual Nature in Lights event at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area. The donation was divided among Helping Hands Ministry in Belton, Texas, Hearts and Hands Ministries in Salado, Texas, and the Food Care Center here.
Dr. Peter Craig, Fort Hood director of DFMWR, personally delivered the boxes of food to the Food Care Center, noting that many are unaware that food insecurity is an issue within the military community.
He referenced statistics from the Military Family Advisory Network to highlight the growing challenge and promote the importance of supporting local food pantries. According to MFAN’s Military Family Support Programming survey, one in six military and veteran families experienced food insecurity or hunger in 2021, up from one in eight two years prior, and just slightly lower than in 2020, when one in five military and veteran families were food insecure at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the food insecurity and inflation issues among service members and the community, it’s just a good opportunity to kind of give back to everybody, both on- and off-post if we can,” Craig said.
He added that eliminating the negative stigma and embarrassment attached to visiting food pantries will make it easier for military and community families to seek assistance.
Ernestine Dingbobga knows firsthand how food insecurity can affect military families and was very candid about her circumstances. Her husband is a staff sergeant assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, and the family depends on the food pantry to help make ends meet.
“Our income is not that much. Right now, we are like six at home, and I don’t work because I go to school,” she explained. “But ever since I had the baby, I’m a stay-at-home mom, so it’s really been helpful.”
The Food Care Center has been a pillar in the community for over three decades. They partner with local organizations to provide food for thousands of people each year.
Raymond Cockrell, executive director of the Food Care Center, estimated that the center averaged 180 families a day and distributed 2.7 million pounds of groceries to 93,000 people last year. He said the center had already serviced 20,000 individuals in November and December alone and that 20% of those who visit are military affiliated.
“I wish we could go out of business, but unfortunately, we’ve seen about a 30% increase in the last couple of years with COVID, and now with inflation,” Cockrell stated.
The center heavily relies on donations from local community organizations, retailers and good Samaritans to keep up with the demand. In turn, families receive everything from canned goods, fresh produce and water to whole cuts of meat, baked goods and even baby formula and supplies. The center additionally grows its own vegetables in a garden on site that is maintained by Killeen Independent School District students.
This was the first year DFMWR collected donations during its annual holiday light display, but Craig hopes to be able to give even more in the future by setting up donation boxes at other events on Fort Hood.
“It’s a chance for us," he said, "the folks at Fort Hood, to give back to the community.”