Lufkin woman who grew up in poverty now helping to feed thousands

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A Lufkin woman who grew up in poverty and hunger is thankful to help East Texans with the same needs. For the past 11 years, Linda Smelley has made it her job to help others through their hardships. Each day she helps hundreds of children, families and senior citizens in Angelina County with help from the East Texas Food Bank. She's helped the Christian Information and Service Center is grow into what it is today.

At a young Smelley learned the meaning of hunger and poverty.

"My father abandoned us when I was seven and up until then I was a chunky little kid. I had a lot of meat on me. My mother was really having trouble feeding us," Smelley said. "We lived over a butcher and he would give me a thick slice of bologna every day."

At the age of 10 she was diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency.

"I didn't have free lunch and many days I didn't eat lunch. You start losing weight and the kids notice," Smelley said. "One day they told my coach and he called my mother and said she's just not eating. Of course they were thinking of calling Child Protective Services and things like that."

Smelley said when she got older she didn't want those that helped her everyday to think she was begging, so she stopped receiving free food.

"We didn't have a food bank and we didn't have food stamps. There were commodity boxes but it was never enough," Smelley said.

Her mother provided for four children and at times didn't have enough money to buy vegetables and meat.

"You got a handful of cheerios in the morning and about three crackers. I was probably getting three to 400 calories a day," Smelley said.\

Many years later, Smelley is helping others fight hunger.

For the past 11 years, she has been the director of the Christian Information and Service Center feeding more than 16,000 each month.

"We used to feed about 50 families a day and now we're up to 250, so it's boomeranged," Smelley said.

As the non profit organization has grown Smelley has the opportunity to help those in need whether it be financially or with groceries.

She's hopeful no one will forget those who suffer with hunger each day in Angelina County.

"Instead of buying a bag of potato chips next week just put a little bit aside for CISC because times are tough right now and donations are down," Smelley said.

This started off as a part time job for the retired Lufkin woman.

Today, with help from the community and the East Texas Food Bank nine cents can buy a pound of meat for CISC clients and pennies can provide them with canned goods and snacks.

"Come on in and find out what we can do for you," Smelley said. "Everything is confidential."

CISC is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.

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