Shared Goals Bring about Positive Action

By Craig Nash

I’ve spent my life in church. In fact, I’ve been in church so much that the first sentence of this paragraph could ALMOST be read literally. One thing I’ve learned from this lifetime in church is that when we are doing things right, the way Jesus told us to do them, and taking care of “the least of these,” feeding the poor, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoners, we take great pride in this. And you know what? We should. The history of Christianity is filled with stories of hospitals on the battlefields of war and food distribution in the midst of famine. People of faith work with those on the margins of our communities in building houses and in putting checks on predatory lending agencies. Most organized efforts I’m aware of to end human trafficking or to place parentless children with families were started by someone sitting in a pew, hearing ancient words of redemption and hope.

Though there are many areas in my denominational tradition that I have come to have serious disagreements with, I always hold up the work of the Texas Baptist Men as a shining example of faith in action. When a natural disaster hits, they are almost always the first people on the ground. Their trucks are ready at a moment’s notice. These men and women, many of them retirees, and most without any formal theological education, take seriously the call of God to be light in the midst of despair. They use their gifts to walk alongside those who have lost everything and help them maintain a sense of dignity. Just about everyone in the disaster-management space holds them in high regard for the amazing work they do.

Last week I spoke with my colleague, John Puder, who is the Regional Manager for Child Hunger Outreach in the Southeast Texas region of the Texas Hunger Initiative, about the challenges with regards to food security in the midst of the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey. In Harris County alone, the families of over 1.2 million children rely on local school districts to supplement the meals they provide to their kids. When schools shut down this gap was no longer able to be filled, which left a number of agencies scrambling to find ways to continue meal service. Another challenge was in staffing of child nutrition programs. Because of displacement, lost cell reception and other factors associated with the storm, many who work in child nutrition remained unaccounted for when schools and other meal providers were able to resume services.

It the midst of all of this, John told me that the faith community, including organizations like Texas Baptist Men, really stepped up to the plate where they could to meet the needs of those who had lost everything. It was inspiring and a model for how we are called to live in the world.

Yet there is a belief among many in my churchy world, whether because of politics, theology, or just a sense that we do it so well, that faith communities are the only institutions that should be doing relief work and addressing the needs of the poor and marginalized. This well-intentioned sentiment doesn’t take into consideration an important historical fact, which is that the history of Christianity (and, I assume, other faith groups,) is one of partnering with other entities when it is helpful, even if we live in tension with those same entities when it isn’t.

In fact, the early spread of Christianity was made possible by an “accident” of history that allowed the Church to make strategic use of the systems created by the Roman Empire. Roads built by Rome allowed missionaries to carry the message of Jesus across the known world. The “Pax Romana,” a time of peace enacted by a strong military gave these early believers a modicum of freedom that enabled them to flourish. A common language, currency and system of government brought the world together. A close reading of early Christian texts will show that people of faith often found the values of Rome to be antithetical to the values of their God, and they spoke to this truth when necessary. But they often worked in tandem with the prominent systems of governance as well. It was an early example, if you will, of a “Public/Private Partnership.”

Collaboration is difficult to pull off, even when it looks good on paper and works extremely well when done right. But it is worth it. Neither faith communities, non-profit organizations, federal and state governments nor individuals are able to feed 1.2 million children in Harris County after a hurricane hits. No matter how well intentioned churches are, they can’t possibly operate on that scale without taking advantage of the “Pax Americana.” And no matter how massive government and non-governmental organizations are, there will always be gaps in what they are capable of pulling off, and an incomplete knowledge of what is happening on the ground level of natural disasters and the every-day caring for our neighbors without the wisdom gained from faith communities. It is possible, as we have seen on the Texas Gulf Coast, for shared goals to bring about positive action among organizations and institutions that otherwise may have reason to distrust the other.


Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

Eating is not just about food

By Craig Nash

Last year was my first summer to help promote the Summer Meals program in the Waco area, and my favorite story from that time was from a midsummer event the Texas Hunger Initiative arranged at Bellmead’s Brame Park. The park is centrally located, has a splash pad to keep kids and families cool during the hot Heart of Texas summer months, and is a stop along La Vega ISD’s “Lunch Bus Express.” After games had been played and balloons passed out, I sat down at the picnic tables to visit with some families and hear their thoughts about the summer meal program. The story of two families in particular have remained with me, and fuels much of my motivation to expand participation in the Summer Food Service Program.

One was a family with three children, accompanied by their parents and an aunt. The dad worked nights and was blurry eyed after taking a quick nap before joining the family at the park for playtime and lunch. Another group of five kids, all siblings and cousins, was there with a grandmother who takes care of them during the summer while moms and dads are at work. Both families seemed close to the other, and I assumed they were connected somehow through church, school or another of the many avenues where we become friends with other people. When I asked how they knew each other, the sleepy-eyed dad said, “Through this. Summer lunches at the park.” The kids all met the previous summer, and the two families have been close ever since.

Food is never just about food, and child nutrition programs are about more than just providing healthy meals to kids. Did you know that one of the most intimate activities you can do with another human is share a meal? It’s why we eat together so much, and why a city the size of ours will never lack of sit-down restaurants. Sitting across a table from another person while participating in the very primal act of fueling your body with nourishment creates invisible bonds that are helpful to survival. Do you want to strengthen your family? Sit down at the table for a meal. Is your church or civic organization needing something to reestablish comradery and affection for each other? You could spend thousands of dollars on a speaker to come talk about the importance of togetherness, or you can schedule a potluck supper and achieve more affect for less money. And if you want to increase the benefits of neighborliness, developing your community into a place where all are welcome and cared for, you can find a way to share a meal with your neighbors.

Summer Meal providers are gearing up to give you an opportunity to strengthen your community, and there is one surefire thing that parents and caregivers of children can do to help them out: Show up. If your child is in need of food, (which, last I checked, is the case for around 100% of all kids,) then the summer lunch program is for you.

I’m particularly excited about a new lunch site this summer. The Waco ISD “Meals on the Bus” will be making a stop at the newly renovated Seley Park. Calvary Baptist Church, located next door to the park, and other community organizations are planning games and activities for kids at various times during the week. Make it a point to stop by and get to know your neighbors. There will be a special kick-off event for this site on June 5th. To follow details, and learn about times for this and other summer meal locations and times, follow “Texas Hunger Initiative—Waco Regional Office” on Facebook, where we will be sharing all that information as it becomes available.


Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

Indian Spring Service Learning Group explores hunger in Waco

By Craig Nash

This year I have had the pleasure of working with students at Indian Spring Middle School in a Service Learning Group focusing on the issues of Poverty and Hunger in McLennan County.  The Service Learning program, led by Travis Cheatham, combines educating students on “real world” concerns and equipping them to use their own gifts and talents in working toward creating a better world for themselves and their neighbors. During the fall, we talked about food insecurity and its causes. Students learned about minimum and living wages, creating a personal budget and food deserts. They were introduced to ideas about effective ways to engage in social change and given brief synopses of the many organizations in Waco dedicated to addressing hunger. They were particularly interested in three specific organizations– Caritas, Mission Waco’s Jubilee Food Market and Meals & Wheels of Waco. So, on January 30, we hopped on a bus for a field trip to those locations.

At Caritas, Director Buddy Edwards met us in the office area and spoke about the administrative work that goes into running Waco’s largest food pantry. Here the students heard about all the other services Caritas provides, such as GED training, SNAP enrollment and health education. Then Mr. Edwards led us through the rest of the facility, including the food distribution area, warehouse and front intake area. One of the things we brought up continually to students, a concept that many of them already knew well by experience, is that many people in our community who receive free food and other social services are people who have full time jobs, (some more than one) and often look just like people we are all friends and family with. The opportunity to see this firsthand was, I believe, a transformative experience.

The highlight of the students’ experience at Caritas was getting to enter the large walk-in freezer and experience zero-degree temperatures, and also taking a picture outside the beautifully painted new produce trailer located behind the building.

From Caritas, we traveled to the Jubilee Food Market where we met Kathy Wise of Mission Waco. On the way there, Mr. Cheatham gave students a lesson in the history of the Brook Oaks neighborhood, from its early days as an enclave of wealthy Wacoans, to its decline, to recent successes in revitalizion. Ms. Wise filled in some of the gaps, describing the neighborhood as being in a food desert before the acquisition of the building where the Market currently stands. She told stories of neighbors who often ended up paying as much for rides to the nearest grocery store as they do on groceries. Last fall students learned about the concept of food deserts, so this was a great oportunity for them to see first hand an organization working to alleviate this challenge.

The morning ended at Meals & Wheels, where Janet Nors walked students through the process of getting food from their facility to distribution hubs around the Heart of Texas and into the homes of seniors. Here, students asked many well-informed questions, such as how someone qualifies for receiving meals from M&W and what are the nutritional components of each meal. They seemed most surprised to learn that the organization also delivers pet food to its clients, and were intrigued at hearing the reason behind this, which is that many seniors in need will often give any food they receive to their pets, knowing they may not eat otherwise.

At the end of each stop, students asked each tour guide ways they could help. Ideas generated were helping Caritas mark off bar-codes from their gifts-in-kind, sharing flyers for Jubilee Food Market, and putting on a pet food drive for Meals & Wheels. They are currently considering which of these they are most excited about and capable of operating. I’m excited to see what they come up with.

I suspect the field trip was as meaningful for me as it was for them. In my role at Texas Hunger Initiative, I have the honor of working with folks all around the city working to alleviate hunger but rarely get to see them in their element like I was able to with these students. The dedication and joy I witnessed as they were in their “natural habitat” was inspiring, and I’m happy the students were able to witness that as well. If you see any of them out and about town, give them a huge “Thank You” for what they do, and the impact they have on our city.


Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

Warm Family-style meal provides a sense of “home” for homeless students

By Craig Nash

On the week before Thanksgiving every year the National Coalition for the Homeless commemorates National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, in an effort to draw attention to some of the most vulnerable of our neighbors. Waco is home to numerous non-profits, churches and focused initiatives to address the issue of homelessness and hunger, such as The Gospel Café, Salvation Army and Caritas, just to name a few. The newest of these is The Cove, which is dedicated to providing a safe space in the evenings for the students of Waco ISD who find themselves, for whatever reason, without a permanent home.

In addition to tutoring assistance, connections to social services and providing a place to shower and wash clothes, The Cove has partnered with several churches and other community organizations to provide a warm, nutritious meal for students every school day. Meals are served family style, which gives students an opportunity to experience a sense of normalcy and “home.” Kenneth McAdam, an MSW intern for The Cove, says that both the students and staff are enjoying the meals, and the partnership is vital to the current success of the organization.

Currently meals are provided by groups from Antioch Community Church, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, and Baylor’s Campus Kitchen. Wednesday meals are provided on a rotating basis by other individuals, churches and non-profits. They have meals being provided through the end of the year, but are beginning to look ahead for early next year. If you or your organization is interested in participating in this exciting and important effort to alleviate the burdens of hunger and homelessness among Waco ISD’s students, send an email to thecovewaco@gmail.com. For more information about services The Cove provides, and how you can help, their website is www.thecovewaco.org.


craig Nash.pngCraig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

 

 

The Dignity of Getting Food the Ordinary Way

By Craig Nash

I don’t remember how old I was. Old enough to remember, I suppose. If the research I conducted on the historical conditions that led to this memory is correct, probably somewhere between three and six. It’s one of those cloudy early-life memories, the type you attach details and, more importantly, meaning to decades after it occurs. It’s also one of those random memories that isn’t constantly present, but presents itself at random times throughout my life, reminding me of how transformative the experience was, simply by virtue of its memory sticking around.

We were at the baseball field behind the school, my mom, sister and I. I want to say it was cold, but perhaps that is my mind adding editorial flourish to mimic what I was sensing. There was a crowd, but not for a game. I remember feeling out of place, like everyone but us knew the drill– when the truck would arrive, how to line up, what identification to have ready.

I remember my sister being excited, like she knew something I didn’t. When the truck arrived and backed up to the line, and it was our turn, she ran into the trailer with the paper bag as my mom told her what to put in it.

On our walk home, she took the pre-packaged foods out one-by-one to show us what we had. There’s only one thing I remember about the experience that I know is completely true, because it was so out of the ordinary. The food had generic packaging. Not “generic” in the “off brand, purchased at a discount store” sense, but “generic” in the sense that the packages and labels on the cans were white with simple black lettering identifying what was inside: Beans. Cheese. Noodles. Corn.

It was like food packages in the cartoons.

I remember being intrigued by this. If I could have explained what was going on in my mind, I would have said, “Mom, this is weird. This food doesn’t look like the kind we get in the store.” But in later years when the memory would peak back into my brain, the intrigue turned to shame as I realized what all this meant.

We were poor.

Dad worked for the Kelly Springfield Tire Company in Tyler, like most of the dads in the small town I grew up in. It was a union job, which was good when it was good, but not so good when layoffs and strikes occurred. It also meant that we were never in severe need for too long. (This wouldn’t be the case for Kelly families decades later, when the company closed the plant after demanding more and more concessions from its workers.) But the times of scarcity, though rare, were enough to leave a mark on me.

I often think about this experience as I am out and about, observing the many ways in which Wacoans pitch in to help our hungry citizens. I’m thankful there was a “safety net” for my family, just like there is for families all across our city. But I also think about the shame I felt at being in temporary poverty, what that did to my psyche, and I wonder about the future memories of children who are in perpetual poverty. This is why programs like SNAP and WIC are so important, (aside from the fact that they are proven to work.) They give parents the dignity of walking down a grocery store aisle with their children and making choices for their family, like every other family in the community.

It’s why I am thankful that school districts like Waco and La Vega ISD offer school breakfast and lunch free of charge to all students, so no child has to be singled out based on their ability to pay.

Our inclination to help is a good one. And sometimes, like when half a town loses its job due to layoffs, extraordinary measures need to be taken to get food to people in extraordinary ways. But my hope and prayer is that we will strive to find ways to get food to people in ordinary ways, that draws attention neither to the giver or the receiver, so that the memories of our children will only be those of food at the table, not how it got there.


craig Nash.pngCraig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

Child Hunger Team Youth Ambassadors learn about Nutrition and Community

By Craig Nash

This summer, the great people at Share our Strength provided the Waco Texas Hunger Initiative Regional Office with two Youth Ambassadors—students who helped us operate and evaluate the Summer Food Service Program. Below is a reflection on the summer from Sydney Brown, one of the students who served alongside Leah Reed. Both Sydney and Leah provided us with a wealth of energy and wisdom as we sought to improve the Summer Meal experience for Waco children.

Plans are already underway for summer 2017, and I am putting together a Child Hunger Team of volunteers from the community to begin mapping out strategies. If you are interested in serving, please email Craig_Nash@Baylor.edu.

***

My name is Sydney Brown. I’m originally from Kansas City, Missouri and currently a Junior Public Health major at Baylor. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in how nutrition directly affects the well being of local communities. This summer I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a Youth Ambassador for The Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office, which has been a perfect mix of nutrition work and community interaction. I have had the privilege of being on the front lines of the USDA Summer Meals program and to see how hunger during the summer affects the lives of our young people. From serving meals at sites to playing with children at Summer Meals Celebration events, I have received a well-rounded look at what hunger in Waco looks like for children and what is being done to combat it.  

Having worked as a Youth Ambassador last Spring in THI’s regional office, doing research on establishing meal sites, there were times when I could feel a little disconnected from the issue of hunger. But having the opportunity to actually be at the sites and to interact with the program and its participants has helped to give me a more full picture of the Summer Meals program. I have met so many incredible families that take advantage of the summer meals program, visiting with them and hearing their stories.  

One of my favorite events to participate in this summer was our Summer Meals Celebration event at Brame Park in Bellmead.  I have found that summer meal sites  which have heavy traffic in the beginning of summer sometimes have trouble maintaining that through the duration of the program. One of our goals with the Summer Meals Celebration event was to get kids excited again about  La Vega’s “Meals on the Bus” program.  La Vega ISD has taken one of their school buses and converted it into a Lunch Meals Express, which transports food to areas where kids are highly concentrated and provides an air-conditioned environment for children to enjoy their lunch. 

We collaborated with La Vega ISD and St. Paul Lutheran Church as well as with some of Baylor’s Campus Kitchen Americorps Vistas to provide fun games and activities for the kids. The kids were able to come out and play beanbag toss, mess around with water balloons, and try their best to win the three-legged race before eating lunch on the bus. I loved that through the games and activities this meal stop became more than just a place to get a free lunch, but now a place to come and play with friends. I got to talk to some of the families that were at the park and was told that many of them came to the park every day to enjoy lunch and had now become close friends with one another. I loved knowing that the summer meals program had brought people together as a community, not only in sharing a meal together but also in creating friendships with one another. The summer meals program has been such a joy to be a part of and I am so encouraged by it. This summer has allowed me to get plugged into the Waco community by being a part of an amazing program.


craig Nash.pngCraig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.