Issues with deterioration in her neck, back and legs have made it impossible for Linda Ortega to work since 2005. In addition to two previous neck surgeries, she had her fifth back surgery at the beginning of February. She’s been living off of social security disability checks in a one bedroom apartment with two of her sons, 16 and 11.

A single mother of four with herniated discs and scoliosis, Ortega was falling behind and paying bills late before she sought the help of Christian Community Action, or CCA.

CCA is a Lewisville-based nonprofit that provides assistance to those who are one step away from experiencing homelessness. The organization helped nearly 1,500 people avoid evictions, foreclosures or utility disconnections in fiscal year 2017, Director of Development Tina Corbett said.

Ortega said she is the type that typically doesn’t ask for help from anybody.

“People have a lot of pride, and they don’t want to ask for help, but at the same time, if you have kids, you got to think about them,” she said. “You got to realize there are people out there that are willing to help.”

Ortega first went to CCA in 2016 when her electricity bill was more than she could manage. CCA has a partnership with CoServ, Ortega’s electric provider, and was able to cover that month’s bill.

But that’s not all the group did for her. Ortega said CCA also admitted her family into the Christmas and Back-to-School programs.

Chaplain Marshall Dunbar, vice president of ministry and program operations, said the aim is to propel people into a brighter future.

“We are Lewisville born but we want to make an impact that is felt throughout North Texas,” Dunbar said.

The organization has 19 sites in North Texas that provide various programs for different levels of crisis that stem from financial insecurity.

It’s hard to encapsulate what the organization does in a brief statement, Corbett said.

“We’re not just a food pantry, but we do have a food pantry. We offer counseling, but we’re not a counseling center,” Corbett said. “It’s really a holistic approach, to really serve the people where they’re at.”

CCA offers financial relief, counseling, food assistance and resource connection. The nonprofit provides life skills improvement opportunities, such as GED and ESL classes, interview coaching, computer training and job fairs.

The back-to-school program provided more than 800 students with school supplies and new clothes in the previous fiscal year. More than 1,400 children were given gifts through the Christmas celebrations last winter.

CCA works within Tarrant, Denton, Dallas, Collin and Wise counties. Boundaries are established by eight independent school districts. (Map courtesy of CCA)

CCA also has the Golden Angels program, a service for senior citizens that takes place every Monday, in which participants can listen to live music and receive clothes and books, Dunbar said. CCA also offers Bible study to those wanting to partake.

“When we talk about communities that are kind of left out and kind of ignored, that’s our seniors,” he said. “These are seniors who initially came for a need, and then we introduced them to that program to give them some sustained community. “

In addition to providing community and a collective 150 hours of fellowship to 120 seniors last year, the pantry is reserved for seniors to peruse Monday mornings. CCA prepared 6,000 lunches for seniors last year, Corbett said.

“We’re all going to be there someday,” Corbett said in regards to growing older.

Through its food assistance services, CCA provided 1.5 million meals via its on-site food pantry and more than 54,000 summer weekend meals to low-income children through Bags of Blessings in fiscal year 2017.

The Food Pantry

The pantry made a $2.3 million impact in retail value on the community in calendar year 2017. The food pantry and warehouse resembles a grocery store with its four aisles and check-out counters.

Shoppers are given a gift card with a dollar amount to spend on their needs, including fresh produce and toiletries.

Corbett said the pantry provides healthier food options than can be typically be found in food pantries.

Some items one could find at CCA include zucchini-sized okra, feminine hygiene products, flax milk, wheatgrass, chimichurri and organic goods.

The pantry is supplied by the North Texas Food Bank, supplemented with goods from community gardens and food retailers Sprouts, Kroger, Tom Thumb, WinCo and Walmart.

Dunbar said the pantry serves 600 families a week, with the families returning about three to four times in the week.

“Even if we find out we can’t help them, because we don’t have any partnerships with that utility company or we don’t have any funds to support them,” Dunbar said. “We can say, ‘We can’t help you with a $100 bill, but we can give you $300 worth of groceries that will help you supplement.’”

In turn, the money that would have been spent on groceries can then go towards taking care of the bill, Dunbar said.

The approximately 8,000-square-foot pantry and warehouse has about three to four employees managing it. Due to the volume of families and inventory, CCA is seeking volunteers to help sort and stock the goods.

Instead of only providing canned vegetables and fruit, CCA has fresh produce for those who use the food pantry. (Photo by Christina Ulsh)

Community Effort Opportunities

Dunbar said CCA is trying to lead the conversation on homelessness.

“People don’t realize it’s not just the poor, but it can be your neighbor,” he said. “A lot of people are just one situation away from being in a situation like, ‘Oh can I pay my light bill? Can I pay my mortgage?’ And that can be your neighbor.”

CCA offers various ways in which community members can help neighbors, from volunteering to financial support.

Corbett said Bags of Blessings fills the gaps for school children who are able to get food through summer feeding programs during the week but not on weekends.

“We provide that opportunity to make sure they’re fed during the weekend,” she said. “We need volunteers to help bag and sack the food. And then last year some of the volunteers helped distribute as well.”

Volunteers also help with Golden Angels, Back-to-School, the Christmas program and the food pantry. Volunteer by going to ccahelps.org/participate-volunteer and filling out the application.

Parker said CCA was started by strong financial supporters, but many of those individuals have aged out or passed away. While the organization is good at toy drives and food drives, he said, CCA still needs the financial backing to help pay rent, hold classes and provide job fairs.

“That’s one of the things CCA hasn’t been good at telling the community,” Parker said. “If we had a lot of donors to give $20 a month, $25 a month, $50 a month, CCA could really be significantly strong for this community.”

Donate by going to give.ccahelps.org/donation.

Organizations can partner with CCA too. Cloud 9 Salon in Flower Mound gives free haircuts to CCA patrons about to go into an interview.

Twisted Root hosted a toy drive and donated gift cards to events. The burger joint is also looking into starting a volunteer program to help CCA.

Contact CCA at ccahelps.org/contact/ or by calling 972-221-1226 to see how your organization can assist the community.

The formerly CCA-run thrift stores still financially benefit the organization. Those wishing to make a tax-deductible donation of clothes and goods can do so at these locations.

Getting Help

While everybody who comes through the site starts off the same — filling out paperwork and talking to a caseworker to determine the need and what can be done for them — not everybody goes down the same path, Corbett said.

“What we do for one family might not mirror what we do for another,” she said. “They might not necessarily be homeless, but we’re trying to step in there to prevent them from becoming homeless, and when they hit that critical issue, things just start spiraling out of control for them.”

Prior to working with CCA, CEO and President Chasz Parker* worked with homeless people for 27 years. Getting out of a homeless lifestyle is difficult and expensive, he said.

Parker said people don’t live in an apartment one day and become the guy on the street corner with a cardboard sign the next. But one missed bill can be the beginning of things falling apart.

“CCA is a safety net in this community,” Parker said. “At CCA what we try to do is keep things from unraveling.”

CCA follows the federal poverty guidelines and 80 percent of the HUD poverty guidelines. Families and individuals seeking assistance have to meet other qualifications as well.

“These guidelines are somewhat written in rubber. They exist, but in individual situations, maybe we need to adjust them a little bit,” Parker said.

Applicants must reside within the service area for at least 90 days, be at least 19 years old, prove financial need and be willing to form a viable action plan with a CCA caseworker if they don’t already have one.

Emergency or basic assistance may be available to those who don’t meet the requirements though.

The majority of clients are walk-ins, Corbett said, while some call ahead to see whether they qualify as far as living in the service area.

“The application for service is available on our website, however, many of our clients do not have the ability to print the application prior to meeting with us at CCA,” Corbett said. “The recommended way to acquire services would be to come to CCA to inquire about services.”

CCA’s Lewisville site is located at 200 S. Mill St. and administration is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The location can be contacted at 972-221-1224.

*Since being interviewed for this story, Chasz Parker has left his position with CCA. Bill Cavalle currently serves as president and CEO on an interim basis. He also serves as chairman of the board.

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