The Hays Area Community Assistance Center has been a hub for help since 1983 after Irene Boone and Esther Taggart became aware of the help needed for families in Ellis County.
Since then, the CAC has been helping more than 5,000 residents annually with needs such as food, clothing and referral sources, and the program is based on income levels.
Now, the legacy has fallen on the hands of Theresa Hill and Laurie Mortinger, directors of the center since 1996.
The CAC provides families and students of Fort Hays State University the chance to receive food from their food pantry four times a year as well as take a large bag of clothes home each month from their donated clothing.
Hill, whose mother helped start the center said that there is always a demand for food and assistance, and warmer months are usually their worse season for need, with a surge of families having to accommodate children out of school.
“Last month we had 599 people come through here, which is more than we’ve had ever before,” Hill said.
The center serves about 5,000 people annually just from Ellis County, which has a population of more than 28,000.
“Every year there’s more people.”
What started as a small area has grown into the largest community assistance center in western Kansas.
“When they started it, it was just a little room they rented off of Cody Street,” Hill said. “She found a bunch of lawyers and stuff and was really good getting money out of people, so they bought this building.”
Although they only serve a small portion, Hill said they don’t plan to expand it into other counties yet because of costs. The Center is run strictly on donations from community members and doesn’t handle any money from the government, just like Hill’s mom started it.
“Every county should have one of these. We get calls from people from different counties all the time, but we can’t help them. If we helped even just the surrounding counties, we wouldn’t have anything left.”
Each year, volunteers from around Ellis county assist families by essentially shopping for them in their food pantry. Food orders are measured by household amounts and are the Center’s main focus in donations.
Families are also given food from local restaurants in Hays.
Pizza Hut pizza from the night before is given to families with their food orders. Hill said several restaurants in town used to give leftovers to the center, but ceased for several reasons including lack of ambition to do the paperwork.
“It’s horrible. I wish they wouldn’t throw their stuff away. There are other organizations that could use it like First Call for Help. It’s just a shame, though,” Hill said.
“If they don’t want to do the paper work, which is what it boils down to, then they just throw it away.”
Hill said several student groups and community groups get involved in helping the community center, and they are always looking for volunteers. To get involved or look for assistance, contact the Center at 785-625-9110. The Community Center is located at 12th and Oak and is open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday-Friday.