Improved facilities allow Operation Liberty Hill to fill more needs
By SHELLY WILKISON
On Tuesday, Operation Liberty Hill’s new Thrift Store was packed with people pushing baskets down crowded aisles searching for used clothing, shoes, bedding, and even furniture.
Executive Director Susan Baker said Tuesdays are the busiest days for volunteers as Liberty Hill families stop first at the food pantry and then make their way across the parking lot to the thrift store.
The phones at Operation Liberty Hill ring continuously. Baker says that since the charity moved from CR 200 to US Highway 183 in the fall, increased visibility has generated more interest in the form of more clients, thrift store customers, item donors and financial contributors.
Baker said poverty is real in Liberty Hill.
“Because we’re not in a big city, poverty isn’t as visible,” she said. “People who need help aren’t setting at a corner. Instead, they’re sleeping in cars or on couches. “If we really knew all the people who need help but aren’t asking for it, I think there would be more than double the number (of clients) we serve,” she said.
The charity is presently serving about 180 people who live in the Liberty Hill ISD, she said.
In its October 2015 Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) submission to the state, Liberty Hill ISD reported 26.74 percent of its enrollment was receiving reduced-price meals. In the 2015 Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR), the figure was 24.9 percent.
As of December 2015, there were 3,572 students enrolled in Liberty Hill schools.
Household income levels are used to qualify students for reduced meal prices.
According to Income Eligibility Guidelines set by the federal government, a family of four earning $44,863 annually qualify for meal assistance.
Baker said that even though the Liberty Hill area is growing with residential developments, there are many families struggling to make ends meet.
At Christmas, about 300 children were served by the community’s Angel Tree program. Christmas trees with the names and wishes of local children were placed in various businesses where customers could “adopt” a child by providing gifts.
Baker said while the number grew from 2014, she attributed the growth to a change in volunteer leadership with differing views on who should receive help. In 2015, there were fewer restrictions, she said.
Community support for Operation Liberty Hill was overwhelming in 2015, Baker said.
“A lot of people made it possible for us to be here (in the new location), making our dreams come true,” she said.
The organization grew its available space from 1,200 square feet to 8,000, making it possible to open a thrift store. The revenue generated by the store — an estimated $1,000 per week — supports the charity’s food pantry and other assistance requests, Baker said.
Those on the client list are primarily in need of food.
“Food is the one thing we can help with on a regular basis and that frees them up to use a little bit of the money they would have spent on food to help pay their bills,” Baker said.
Utilities and rent are additional needs, but Baker said Operation Liberty Hill isn’t “overwhelmed with requests for those kinds of things. We help out a lot with propane and helping with prescriptions, and sometimes rides to medical appointments.”
During the holidays, the season for charitable giving, food and toiletry donations filled a Mobile-Mini storage container. Baker said thousands of pounds of food were donated by school food drives, local businesses, day care centers and even two chiropractic offices in Cedar Park.
“That’s enough food to take us into late Spring,” she said.
During summer months, food donations wane as school is not in session. Baker said students at Bill Burden Elementary collected toiletries.
“We always needs them because the Lone Star Card doesn’t pay for those items,” she said.
Because Operation Liberty Hill now has a walk-in refrigerator, it was able to accept 100 pounds of processed deer meat from a local hunter.
“That was so nice for our clients at Christmas,” Baker said.
The charity partnered with Salvation Army of Williamson County to provide dinner boxes for local families at Christmas. Student volunteers from the high school DECA Club assisted, and raised $1,000 for the charity. Baker said end-of-year cash donations topped $10,000.
Some of the financial giving is paying for an elevator that is currently being installed in the facility’s two-story building. The food pantry is on the first floor and the second floor will be used for various classes to assist clients looking for employment. The second floor is currently being used on weekends by Capstone Baptist Church.
Baker said the charity’s next goal is to partner with Capital Area Food Bank and local grocers to provide food in Liberty Hill. In order to participate in the partnership, Operation Liberty Hill must meed certain criteria. While the additional space in the new facility and a walk-in refrigerator were the first steps, a box truck is needed to pick up food at grocery stores.
“When foods reach sell-by dates, grocery stores donate items to food banks,” Baker said. “That’s how food banks get their food. They don’t buy it (meat, eggs and produce) like we are having to do. When Operation Liberty Hill can get donations from grocers, it will save up to $3,000 a month that we spend now on fresh foods for clients.”
Baker said Operation Liberty Hill welcomes donations of clothing and other household items. However, if items are not in good condition “where someone else is willing to pay for them”, then it must pay to have them hauled away.
“If it has holes and stains, if you don’t want it, others won’t want it,” she said. “We’re getting more items (donated) because people don’t want to drive elsewhere to donate. Plus, it’s good to know that items are going back to help people in our own town,” she said.
Baker added that more volunteers are needed to help at the facility, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
To volunteer, make a donation or obtain assistance from Operation Liberty Hill, call (512) 778-4175, visit www.operationlh.org, or stop by 1401 US Highway 183, Leander, 78641.
The food pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, and 3-6 p.m. Thursdays. The thrift store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.