The service that food pantries in Henderson County provide is an invaluable one, and that may be no more evident than at those operated by churches.

Take, for example, Community Care Food Pantry at Eastern Hills Church of Christ in Athens. It opens its doors for about eight hours each Tuesday. By the end of the month, volunteers and others have served between 2,000 and 5,000 people, including 800 to 900 families. Many in need arrive at Community Care two hours before it opens.

One of the pantry board members who helps run the organization, Becky Emerson, told the Athens Daily Review on Tuesday that “there's definitely a need in Henderson County.” Data provided by the East Texas Food Bank shows that is true. More than 20 percent of Henderson County residents are food insecure, and 31 percent of children live in those homes. More than 4,300 people may be eligible for SNAP benefits.

“The USDA defines food insecurity as a state in which 'consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year,' the East Texas Food Bank website shows. “Good shorthand terms for food insecurity are 'struggling to avoid hunger,' 'hungry, or at risk of hunger,' and 'hungry, or faced by the threat of hunger.'”

But Community Care is one of just two food pantries in Athens. The other is The Food Pantry. Elsewhere in Henderson County are Malakoff Produce, Faith in Action, Mission Westlake, Community Food Pantry of Tool, Rock Hill Outreach Center, God's Open Hands in Chander, CLC Food Pantry in Gun Barrel City and Murchison Food Pantry.

At Community Care, most of the clients are low-income individuals, Emerson said. Certainly, that is the case for those who ask for help at other pantries here and elsewhere. Some of the clients seek help from multiple organizations. And most food pantries, if not all, need more funding and donations. At Eastern Hills, church members who help run Community Care are asking for financial help so they can “knock down walls” and renovate the space where food is stored and clients arrive to complete paperwork and receive help.

It is our duty to feed the hungry wherever those people exist, and that burden is never going to change, especially for churches whose members take such a responsibility so seriously. And it's not as difficult as you may think to help in that cause.

The next time you're picking up a few groceries for your family, consider a couple of extra cans of vegetables or a bag of rice and pasta. Or, if you'd rather drop off a few dollars instead, the great people at Community Care will appreciate any help they can get.

The pantry is open from 8 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. every Tuesday. The church is at 1200 E. Corsicana St. Donations may be sent to Community Care Food Pantry, P.O. Box 1997, Athens, TX 75751.

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