Linda Smelley, executive director of the East Texas Christian Information and Service Center, stands with a small portion of the food CISC provides to needy people on a daily basis. Since the economic downturn, the food bank has seen a sharp increase in people needing help and currently serves about 14,000 people each month.

Despite some signs that the economy is beginning to recover, more people than ever are seeking help from the Christian Information and Service Center’s food bank.

“We got up to 16,000 a month in September,” said Linda Smelley, executive director of East Texas CISC. “It was just too much.”

Since that “breaking point,” the CISC food bank is back to serving between 13,000 and 14,000 people per month. Even though their numbers have gone down, though, Smelley said they’re serving far more people than they did in the past. Last year alone, the food bank gave out more than 3 million pounds of food, a number they expect to meet again this year.

“When I started eight years ago, we served 3,000 people a month. In 2007 we served 6,000 a month, and now we’re up to 14,000 a month,” Smelley said. ”But we’re also serving at-risk kids on weekends as part of the ‘Backpack Buddy’ program.”

In addition to a huge jump in the number of people served, the types of people who seek help have changed, too. Whereas it used to be seniors on a fixed income, or young single parents, now people of all ages and walks of life come through the doors to ask for help, Smelley said. One newcomer was a recent college graduate who could not find a job and lived out of her car because she did not have a family in which to turn.

“It’s just been different,” Smelley said. “We’re seeing a lot of couples in their thirties and forties who had great jobs, and now they live with their parents.”

Smelley estimated that visitors bring in about $600 a month, and though many are unemployed, she said, it is not for lack of trying to find a job.

“A lot of people think our clients don’t want to work, that they just want to collect unemployment,” Smelley said. “But they’re begging for a job, and when they get one they’re so overwhelmed, it’s like the greatest day in their life.”

Feeding America, the nation’s largest food bank network, found in February that one in eight Americans seek emergency food assistance annually, a 46 percent increase from the network’s last study in 2006, according to an article by Dustin Ensinger on the website Additionally, the report found a 68 percent increase in the number of those unemployed for less than one year seeking food assistance.

CISC relies on grant funding from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, along with the support of churches, individuals and organizations in the community. Smelley firmly believes, too, that if more people receive help from CISC, more people will be willing to donate to the organization.

“We get letters every day, from people who say things like ‘You helped my neighbor,’” Smelley said. “We’ve never had a fundraiser, it’s been all word of mouth, and it just grows. A lot of charities are down right now, and we are not.”

In addition to food, CISC provides uniforms for school children and sleeping bags for the county’s growing homeless population.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Smelley said.

The food bank at 501 S. Angelina St. is open from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, contact CISC at 634-2857.

Larissa Graham’s e-mail address is