For Joe Baker, busy is how he likes it

HARLINGEN — Like most Wednesdays down at the Harlingen Neighborhood Food Pantry, the crowd is packed in.

Hundreds of people needing food assistance flock to the Church of Christ at Harrison Avenue and 8th Street to take home bags of vegetables, non-perishables and, in this holiday season, turkeys.

Joe Baker, 78, supervises the garage area for the pantry, where his crew hands out the turkeys, hominy, fresh vegetables and more.

“We have a little green ticket with a rhinoceros on it … if they come in with two tickets, that means that they’re double, they’re picking up for two people, so we double up on everything,” Baker said.

Baker is a native of Lubbock, but he and his wife, Wanda, moved to Harlingen about 45 years ago. He’s retired from Tri-Pak Machinery Inc., a local company which manufactures custom packaging machinery systems for fresh fruit and produce.

“My wife’s parents, her father, had cotton and grain and he would come down for the grain season from Lubbock,” Baker recalled. “And we would come down here to visit them on a long weekend. We liked it, so we moved.”

Baker said he works at the pantry on Tuesdays, too, where his experience at Tri-Pak helps with the logistics of unloading big trucks coming in from McAllen, and deciding what goes where and which items go into storage.

The frozen turkeys are, as might be expected, popular items this holiday season.

“I must say, ever since November at Thanksgiving, there’s been more people coming since then,” Baker said. “A lot of them found out that we’re giving turkeys and we’ve been really swamped with people wanting turkeys.

“Three weeks ago, we had 200 turkeys and we ran out,” he said. “There were 12 people that didn’t get turkeys, so we took their names and telephone numbers down, and told them if they would come next Wednesday, they would be sure to get a turkey,” he added.

Baker said his wife, Wanda, used to help out at the pantry as well, but mobility problems now prevent her from joining him at the pantry.

Baker said he is familiar with other retirees who may think they can’t help as a volunteer, or who say they are too busy.

He thinks it’s the wrong attitude.

“They need to get out and live,” he said. “Because sitting home because you’re retired, if they don’t travel, they need to get involved in something.

“They’ll live a lot longer life if they get out and get involved in something,” he added.