Michelle Shropshire said she hasn't been able to find a job.
If she could, she said, she'd love to find something in housekeeping or office work. As it is, she's been to HaCoBaCare Ministries twice recently for food and now for school supplies for her daughters, ages 7 and 14.
"It's a help," Shropshire, 34, said before browsing through a rack of clothes earlier this week at the outreach program of the Hamilton County Baptist Association.
But the outreach arm that assisted nearly 10,000 people with emergency food during the 2010-2011 fiscal year is now in need of assistance itself.
On Sept. 1, HaCoBa, located in St. Elmo Baptist Church, will lose half its present space to its host church.
That space, which has provided storage for the ministry's clothes and toys, will be re-utilized by the congregation.
In order to keep its donation programs together, the 21-year-old HaCoBaCare needs 10,000 to 15,000 square feet to maintain and expand its ministries, according to Dr. David Myers, missions director of the local Baptist Association.
Even if the outreach doesn't find a new home before Sept. 1, though, the food distribution will continue, he said.
That distribution is desperately needed, said Eileen Rehberg, director of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga's 211 information and referral service.
In recent years, she said, fewer food vouchers have been available for clients to take to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. Churches, which often had vouchers to give, now opt to assist economically stressed members of their congregation.
"HaCoBa," Rehberg said, "picks up when we have those shortfalls. I can't emphasize their importance more."
HaCoBa, according to statistics provided by 211, is sent more referrals for food than any local agency.
In the first quarter of 2012, according to Rehberg, of the 1,783 referrals 211 made to food providers, three-fourths went to the Hamilton County Baptist outreach.
"That's probably been typical throughout the years," Rehberg said. "They're a major provider."
In fiscal 2011, HaCoBa served 3,945 households, which included 9,233 individuals.
In addition, it provided 3,984 people with used clothing, 585 children with toys at Christmas, and several hundred turkeys and hams at both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Last month, according to volunteer director Gerald Lawson, HaCoBaCare also provided 103 blood-pressure checks and gave out 47 pairs of reading glasses.
"The numbers have steadily increased," he said. "We're seeing more and more first-time clients. That indicates the economy is not doing that well."
Murl Jackson, an administrative volunteer for HaCoBaCare, said 25 people per day was all the ministry was "tooled up to do."
"But we realized the need was so great that we would try to do more," he said. "We probably don't give as wide of a variety or balance [of foods as in previous years]. We give a little less to more people."
Through the first half of 2012, HaCoBaCare has averaged 31 clients per day, some days serving 48-50.
The ministry is open four days a week, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and serves Hamilton County clients of any faith background.
"We have no idea [about their faith]," said Myers. "We only know who's supposed to be coming in [from 2-1-1]."
Since HaCoBaCare is a faith-based ministry, he said, volunteers do attempt to share their Christian witness with clients. When they finish filling out the required forms to receive the food, he said, clients are asked about their faith. If they do not wish to discuss it, the subject is dropped. If they do, then volunteers can provide additional information.
ROOM FOR EXPANSION
A new space such as a warehouse that can be arranged for efficiency is needed, Myers said. The present space has just one narrow door -- accommodating clients and incoming food -- and seven steps down to the crowded basement facility.
More room would allow separate areas for in-take paperwork, food storage, food box preparation, clothing displays and nurse interviews.
Food, which then could be purchased in pallets, would be cheaper, Lawson said.
Such a space would, in the future, allow for English as a second language classes, computer training, job corps services, additional health services and other ministries, Myers said.
"There are a number of things we'd like to see developed at the center," he said. "We have no room at this point."
Myers said the Baptist Association presently allocates $60,000 for HaCoBaCare, which includes approximately $1,000 a week for the groceries it gives away, $500 a month in rent for 8,000 square feet of space in the church and a varying amount for utilities.
Its director and daily workers -- 32 to 35 per week -- are all volunteers.
"We'd love to have a place rent free," Myers said, "or, at least, with very, very minimal rent."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...