Wednesday, January 16, 2019
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20190102 Loaves and Fishes KOLoaves and fishes provides food and shelter for homeless

Loaves and Fishes in Harlingen is a homeless shelter that provides daily meals and temporary shelter for up to 30 days and some educational assistance to the homeless of Harlingen. The shelter, which first opened its doors in 1991, is located at 514 E. “E” Street in Harlingen. It is an “open arms” shelter where everyone who is hungry or in need of a place to stay is welcome – no questions asked.

Bill Reagan, who has served as executive director for the past nine years, told the Winter Texan Times, there are five main functions of Loaves and Fishes. Reagan is a pastor, who until recently served as pastor of Our Redeemer Church, in addition to his duties at the shelter. The shelter has grown over the years since it moved to its present location in 2008, and now has 15 employees, 11 full-time and four part-time.

The first function is referred to as Bread of Life. The shelter has a kitchen that is open seven days a week serving three meals Monday through Friday and two meals on weekends, serving up to 12,000 meals every month. November, December and August are peak months for meals. Many come to the shelter for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Thanksgiving dinner is served the day before Thanksgiving while Christmas dinner is served Christmas Eve. Often there are 300 to 400 people for these traditional meals. Children who attend on Christmas Eve receive a toy for Christmas. Reagan said August is a peak month because children are out of school and families run out of food stamps to feed the family.

Reagan said the meals are prepared and served by volunteers, church or civic groups and people doing community service.

The second function of the shelter is to provide shelter. As an Open Arms Homeless Shelter, it has a rapid re-housing program where people can stay up to 30 days while arrangements for other housing are made. The shelter can house 66 people at a time with its current beds and up to 120 with cots during an emergency. Reagan said the shelter has two outreach workers who locate the homeless in the city and invite them into the shelter.

The third function is the New Hope Job Shop. Staff and volunteers can assist people in getting their GED (alternate high school diploma) if they have not finished high school. The shelter teaches basic life skills and those staying at the shelter can earn a certificate in Microsoft Office to prepare them for office jobs.

Reagan said a few people have been placed in offices but they have had more luck placing people in jobs at Sam’s Club or other warehouse type businesses. In some cases, they have sent people out of state to work in industries looking for workers. Reagan said approximately a dozen homeless looking for jobs were sent to Wisconsin to work in the meatpacking industry recently. Loaves and Fishes paid for their bus tickets to Wisconsin. In another case people were transported to Florida to work in a similar industry.

The fourth component is Family Emergency Assistance. Families in danger of being evicted can receive rent and utility assistance from Loaves and Fishes. Families that run out of food can also get food from the shelter. Reagan said up to 100 families a month receive this kind of assistance.

The fifth component is the Great Physicians. There is a daily nurse who comes to check blood pressures and blood sugars. Dr. Robinson comes to the shelter weekly and provides regular office services for those who come to the shelter.

The one area the shelter does not address is clothing. They do not take or distribute clothing to the homeless or needy families.

The Winter Texan Times asked Regan about the needs the shelter had. The number one need is money. It costs about $1 million a year to keep the shelter operating at its current level. Approximately 40 percent of this cost is met by local churches and service organizations.

Government contracts supply about 33 percent of the costs. The shelter also receives funding from United Way and charitable foundations. The rest of the funding comes from group and individual donations.

Reagan said a dozen Winter Texan parks in the Harlingen area held their own church services and took a collection. At the end of the season the money collected was delivered to Loaves and Fishes to help with their work.

In addition, Winter Texans cleaning out uneaten food from their winter homes often drop off canned goods and non-perishable items at the shelter. These offerings and food donations go a long way toward keeping the shelter operating in the sparse summer months.

Unopened generic medicines such as ibuprofen (unexpired) and bandaging materials for cuts are also welcome. However, the shelter does not distribute leftover prescription medicines. Hygiene supplies are also welcome.

Reagan said volunteers are welcome but before coming, please check with Reagan at 956-423-1014 to see when and what kind of volunteers are needed.

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