By SHELLY WILKISON
The Liberty Hill community has the biggest heart in central Texas, and a history of rallying around and lifting up those in need among us. Whether it be families displaced by storms, individuals suffering from major illness or sudden injuries, or those who have tragically lost loved ones, faith-based organizations work together with local businesses and volunteers to help restore healing where there is pain.
Operation Liberty Hill, the community’s food pantry and clothes closet, is the primary faith-based charity that helps local residents with the essential needs during times of crisis. Executive Director Susan Baker is the driving force behind the organization of about 25 volunteers and a number of donors.
After her retirement from the City of Austin, she began providing rides for elderly and disabled members of her church who were also economically disadvantaged. She helped them get to medical appointments, then brought them to the local food pantry and other places where they could obtain assistance.
“I just wondered why people couldn’t go to one place to get all their needs met,” she said. “Most of the time, clients don’t have transportation to get from place to place.”
At the time, a local food pantry moved from one church to another, and the hours of operation were limited although the demand for help was growing. With support from the churches and Baker’s persistence, the resource center moved into a small house on Loop 332, but one year later it had outgrown the space. The organization obtained a 501(c)3 charitable status from the IRS, and in April 2013, a donor stepped forward and offered to pay the first year’s rent at a new location on State Highway 29. Today, in addition to the current building, three storage units are required.
Because of a growing client list and a need for more services, the time has come again for the organization to move into larger, more permanent quarters.
In October 2015, Operation Liberty Hill will move to a 7,000-square-foot facility at 1401 US Highway 183. However, the buildings, which have been abandoned since 2010, have fallen into serious disrepair and a fundraising campaign is under way to pay for structural improvements.
Baker said that with more space, Operation Liberty Hill can better serve its clients. Currently, the faith-based organization provides food and clothing without charge. The center also assists the jobless in looking for work and tries to connect families with other organizations that offer assistance with medical and dental care. Counseling and bible study are also offered.
She said additional space will allow the program to open a thrift store, which will help sustain its operations and eliminate the need for storage units.
The added space will also allow the organization to have computers available to assist with job searches and resume´ building.
Baker said the ministry of Operation Liberty Hill in the community is invaluable, and every day she learns more about how best to serve others.
“I think God gives me the discernment to know when to help and how much to help,” she said. “Sometimes I can see that the situation isn’t going to change even with the little help we can provide. Sometimes the best thing I can do is pray with them. And sometimes, I just have to pray that God will calm them down.”
But above all, the mission of Operation Liberty Hill is to show everyone who walks through the door that they are loved, that they matter and that God has a plan.
“When anyone comes in, we want them to know that God loves them and we love them,” she said.
Operation Liberty Hill depends on the generosity of the community to keep it in service.
Other community organizations frequently make financial contributions to the charity, host food drives and assist with yard sales. Various community events often feature donation barrels for food items, and proceeds from fundraising efforts are also donated to the center. Contributions are tax deductible.
The generosity of the community will be especially appreciated as the center prepares to relocate this fall.
Formerly the home of LifeSprings Church, the buildings that will house Operation Liberty Hill have set abandoned since the church moved in 2010. The property was purchased in 2010 by Williamson County. The site was intended to be a headquarters for ambulances working the northwest side of the county. At the time, Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 lacked the space to house an ambulance and crew. But in 2011, the fire station was expanded for that purpose.
Baker estimates it will take $90,000 to remodel both buildings on the property, which includes replacing a roof and refurbishing the inside. In addition to financial contributions, she said assistance in the form of materials and labor are also welcome.
While managed by Baker and some 25 volunteers, Operation Liberty Hill is overseen by a Board of Directors that includes Debi Johnston, Carol Parker, Randy O’Dell, Brian Butler, Jamie Etzkorn, Ann Witcher and Daryl Shipper.
Those wishing to make a contribution to Operation Liberty Hill may go to the website, www.operationLH.org, and donate using PayPal. Checks may be mailed to Operation Liberty Hill, PO Box 1081, Liberty Hill, TX 78642. To learn more, call (512) 913-2256.