You wish it didn’t have to, but the North Texas Food Bank keeps growing. Growing in employees (up to about 120 now). In the number of meals it serves annually (45 million last year, up 21 percent from the previous year). Even in fundraising (a 15 percent increase in ’10 over ’09).

These are tougher economic times, of course.

Still, hardcore homeless types account for less than 10 percent of those the agency serves.

Many of the rest, says Jan Pruitt, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, are people who just got a bad break­—sort of like the ones you’ve seen on all those food-bank billboards around town.

Facts like these are good to bear in mind, as the “giving season” winds down and we begin a new year. Remembering the less fortunate is especially important in this region, where the need can sometimes be surprising, given our relative prosperity.

One recent morning, Pruitt was walking through the food bank’s 82,000-square-foot warehouse off Cockrell Hill Road in southern Dallas. The facility looked like the world’s biggest Sam’s Club, or a jet-aircraft factory.

Even so, it’s not big enough. “We’re busting at the seams,” Pruitt said. She’d like twice as much space.

Beeping forklifts scurried here and there, toting big cartons full of groceries. Eighteen-wheelers groaned up to the dock doors just outside. Everywhere you looked there were boxes of food: green beans, cheese, oatmeal bars, sunflower seeds, hamburger meat, peanut-butter crackers, potatoes, melons, lettuce.

Said Pruitt, who’s led the food bank for 13 years: “We’re a food-distribution company wrapped in an altruistic skin.”

The food bank is also a great business solution for North Texas companies, she added.

Outfits like Frito-Lay, Pizza Inn, Dean Foods, Wal-Mart, and Kroger donate food they can’t use, souping up their bottom line with a tax break in the process.

And no doubt, the food bank can use all the donated, purchased, and prepared food it gets.

Last year it served 307 member agencies in 13 North Texas counties through a network of nearly 1,200 feeding programs.

Included are special programs for senior citizens and schoolchildren. The latter, called Food 4 Kids, provides backpacks full of nutritious, kid-friendly foods to chronically hungry children every Friday. The backpack sees them through the weekend, in case they don’t have access to meals at home.

That’s heartbreaking, when you think about it. But it’s also reality.

On Feb. 5, Pruitt says, the food bank will be one of the beneficiaries of the Super Bowl-related “Taste of the NFL” event at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

It will also be the sole beneficiary of an NFL event at Grapevine’s Glass Cactus in April. 

And the agency’s signature fundraiser, called Empty Bowls, will be held again this year, on Feb. 25, at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

As always, Pruitt’s hoping those who have enough to eat will show up that day to help those who don’t.

That will ensure the North Texas Food Bank keeps growing. Because it has to.