SEASON OF GIVING — Willie Carter Outreach Center delivers Christmas even during a freeze

Published 12:36 am Thursday, January 5, 2023

When applying for the second annual Season of Giving grant powered by Port Arthur LNG, Johnny Hulin was preparing to provide a holiday meal and gifts to the residents of Port Cities Rescue Mission.

What the executive director of the Willie Carter Outreach Center wasn’t expecting was an influx in recipients due to freezing cold temperatures.

But through the assistance of the grant funds, along with other donations, the nonprofit was able to meet its goal and increase it exponentially.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We were blessed,” Hulin said. “Quite a few organizations came in to help with the kids. The adults that were there, we took care of most of their Christmas. We gave them hats, gloves, jogging suits and hygiene bags. We had a nice little set up.”

There were already more than 20 people at the Port Arthur-based center prior to the drop in temperatures, which Hulin said brought another 15 people seeking shelter from the cold.

“We were able to get everybody a gift at the mission,” he said. “Everyone was able to get a little of the holiday spirit.”

The hats and gloves were purchased in advance for a different purpose, which Hulin called a Godsend.

“We were going to just do toys, but we had extra donations to help with that and the freeze came so we were able to make sure everyone had a nice Christmas despite the cold,” he said. “The beanie hats and gloves really came in handy for everyone, even the kids. Those that wanted to run around outside had a chance to put something over their heads.”

In addition to gifts, the Carter Center provided meals during the cold snap — Chick-fil-A, pizza and hamburgers to name a few.

On Christmas Eve, they brought the gifts, a large pot of gumbo and sodas.

“The rescue mission is still trying to get up and running,” he said. “We bought bedding — 12-15 pillows and pillow cases. So it turned out to be a blessing to have this grant to move forward.”

Through Season of Giving, the center was one of 18 area nonprofits that received a portion of $56,000 in grant funds in November.

The center’s mission

The Carter Center, located at 548 W. 11th St. in Port Arthur, has been in operation since 2000 and provides recovery support services. A person with substance use or mental health disorders can find resources and help at no cost.

Assistance ranges from recovery meetings to help with employment, which includes getting an identification card, clothing for an interview and using the center’s computer lab to submit applications.

Run through the help of volunteers, the Carter Center hosts one of the city’s largest back-to-school events each summer. Last year organizers provided 1,500 backpacks with school supplies to Port Arthur children in need.

Next month they will join the annual Stand Down event, which is geared to assist veterans and those experiencing homelessness.

“We’ll be providing handouts for the homeless and all residents and extending hygiene bags,” Hulin said. “We’ll provide information on mental health and substance abuse disorders. We should be able to provide for 100 veterans.”

Hulin said they’ve seen an uptick in mental health disorders since COVID began.

“From isolation to self-medication, jobs, homes — and our silent victim is our kids,” he said. “When you stop and look at not having the resources or support for our kids, it puts an extra stress on parents who were already challenged to get a balance in the family dynamic.”

Judith Smith, director of the Port Arthur Health Department, said they also saw an increase in a need for mental health services due to the pandemic.

“With one of the grants that we received last year, we have a contract licensed professional counselor on staff,” she said. “We are referring any of our patients that have a need to her at no cost to the patient.”

Smith said staff members also assess patients that come into the clinic for any reason. In the event they detect a need for assistance, the patient will be asked if they would like a referral for free services.