Waco ISD feeding the future with Summer Food Service Program

By Maddie McNamee

On June 14, the Waco ISD Summer Food Service Program returned to Waco with promises to provide meals for all children ages 1-18, regardless of their enrollment in school. The program, which has been in effect in Waco for a few years now, was a saving grace for many families last year who were financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecurity became a global issue as income began to dwindle and everyday expenses remained. The Summer Food Service Program took some of the financial burden away from struggling caretakers and ensured that no child would have to worry where their next meal came from. 

Summer meals are being served at Crestview Elementary School Friday morning, as well as at 37 other Waco ISD locations.

With the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and the end of the pandemic in sight, Waco seems to be showing signs of healing. Businesses are reopening, restrictions are being lifted, and people are reuniting with their loved ones. Going for a quick drive around Waco only to get stuck in traffic feels like things are slowly going back to normal.

Despite these returns to normalcy, food insecurity is still a very real and prevalent problem in Waco. An issue before the coronavirus, the challenge of putting food on the table, only became greater when the world went into lockdown. It is easy to wish for things to go back to normal, but it is also important to remember that while the option to go to a restaurant is now available, not everyone has the financial ability to do so after such a challenging year.

The Waco Independent School District identified these difficulties that residents of Waco were facing and not only brought the Summer Food Service Program back, but expanded it substantially, making it easier for children to have access to a free breakfast and lunch seven days a week. With 38 locations serving the free meals at designated times, every child in Waco should have the opportunity to enjoy the return of a semi-normal summer without the pangs of hunger. 

The service will run Monday through Friday, with the exception of July 5, when it will close for the Independence Day holiday. Packaged meals will be available to pick up for the weekend on Fridays. With the return of school in the fall, the program will end August 18. For more information on service times, locations, and updates, you can head to https://www.wacoisd.org/summermeals. Many of these schools are seeking volunteers and if you would like to help operate a Summer Food Service Program site, check out https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program to see if you are eligible. 

Maddie McNamee is a creative writing intern with Act Locally Waco. She is a student-athlete at Baylor University and is pursuing a major in Professional Writing and Rhetoric. 

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

The farm is opening up; World Hunger Relief has plans

By Chase Jensen

World Hunger Relief, Inc., is thrilled to welcome Wacoans back out to the farm this summer!

As with so many organizations, our plans last summer were either canceled or seriously reworked to fit into a virtual format. We had a blast with local youth during our online summer program but missed seeing the contagious wonder and curiosity that kids have when they get to explore our farm in person.

While we were able to convert educational opportunities into an online format, all of our community events had to be canceled, including our annual Farm Day and Night on the Farm dinners. But while our city was closed we remained hard at work learning, revising curriculum, and feeding Wacoans through our C.S.A. and our Produce Prescription Program.

We are definitely ready to welcome Waco back to the farm though! In April we were able to host our first Night on the Farm dinner of the year, which featured delicious food, live music, and a beautiful outdoor covered setting (even with a little rain!). Our next Night on the Farm dinner is scheduled for June 3, and we expect it to be just as memorable a time.

These dinners allow us a chance to show off the farm, give people a chance to taste the food we raise on the farm, and share a bit about our current and upcoming activities. There are still a few spots available, so if you’d like a seat at the table register soon at www.worldhungerrelief.org!

The farm is also hosting two weeks of farm-filled fun for children entering K-6th grade during the weeks of June 7-11 and June 14-18. This day camp will occur Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and includes a healthy snack and lunch. Our theme this year is Farm-to-Table, and we will be learning about different trees, plants and animals on our farm as well as engaging in fun games and engaging crafts. This is a great opportunity for kids to get outside and engage with living things after a long year inside and in front of screens! You can learn more and register by visiting www.worldhungerrelief.org/farm-camp.

Chase Jensen is director of education for World Hunger Relief in Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Caritas receives grant to provide nourishing food

Again in 2021, the Beaumont Foundation of America has granted Caritas of Waco $50,000 to purchase fresh produce and other nutritional food items for clients needing emergency food assistance. The grant has been given to Caritas every year since 2006 and has supported efforts of the organization to provide healthier food items to people in need.   

“Nourishing food is essential for families to function optimally,” said Alicia Jallah, Caritas co-executive director. “Caritas is committed to offering the highest level of nutritional food to the thousands of individuals that are struggling with food insecurity in our community. Beaumont Foundation is a strategic partner in the fight against hunger in our community. They continue to provide us with the necessary funds to purchase healthy food options for our pantry.”

In 2020 the food pantry distributed over 5.2 million pounds of food.

Caritas of Waco is a nonprofit that serves McLennan County and the surrounding area by providing individuals and families with urgent support and long-term solutions to poverty. In 2020, Caritas served over 40,680 families with emergency food assistance. For more information on Caritas of Waco or how you can support its community efforts, please visit www.caritas-waco.org or call 254-753-4593. 

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

A moment in time points toward a need to care & act

By Ferrell Foster

An encounter with a stranger haunts me.

Last month, in the midst of the winter storm, we decided to flee our powerless house for my daughter’s house in another town. It was Tuesday afternoon. We had been without power almost all of the time since 8 a.m. Monday. The temperature had dropped to 2 or 3 degrees outside Tuesday morning.

We motored northward and stopped a little north of town to get gas. Inside the store, I stood in a two-pronged line waiting to check out. 

A woman, shorter than me and probably not as old as me, took her place in the line adjacent to me. She smiled big and had a happy lilt in her voice.

“We haven’t had power in two days,” she said.

“I know. We’ve been without power, too,” I responded.

“It got down to 27 degrees in our house last night,” she said, still with a bit of mirth in her voice.

“Oh, my,” or something like that, was all I could say.

Lines advance. She checks out; I check out. We go our ways.

So why can’t I forget this encounter? For a simple reason.

The woman and I both lived through a powerless night when the temperature outside dropped almost to zero. She lived in a 27-degree icebox of a house. The temperature in our house never dropped below 52.

People with resources encounter some of the same challenges in life that those with less resources face, but we do not deal with these challenges on equal footing. Not only did my house keep my family and me much warmer than this woman’s, but we also had someplace to go.

One of my daughters stood in the line with me. After we left, I commented on the woman’s situation in contrast to ours, and Tabitha noted that the woman still seemed to have on her pajamas with a house coat on top. I hadn’t noticed.

This woman was not dressed for travel. Chances are she headed back to her icebox and had to wait who knows how long for relief. Still, she smiled.

Driving northward, Tabitha read me a news account of the power outages in East Waco. This story included a quote from my friend, Waco Council Member Andrea Barefield. She spoke to the importance of alleviating the infrastructure problems in East Waco.

Our neighbors who are most in need should be our highest priority. People in poorer neighborhoods should have the absolute best when it comes to streets, water, and power because they already have enough challenges. 

Why is it so often the other way around in cities across this country? It doesn’t have to be; Waco can be different. We can give our best to those who have the least.

We stand or sink together as a community from East Waco to North and South and West. We are Waco; we seek our best.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

Five Things to Know Right Now About Caritas

By Ann Owen

We are here to help.

I hope you read Alicia Jallah’s blog last week regarding the numerous services Caritas offers to the community. During this time of much need, Caritas continues to see increasing numbers of individuals and families who are experiencing hardships as never before. Whether it be food, assistance with utilities, case management services and/or assistance with enrollment in state and federal programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), Caritas staff are ready to help. If you have a need for which we are unable to provide assistance, we have a long list of community partners to whom we can refer clients.

Things look a little different.

As much in our community has changed due to the pandemic, so has Caritas. In March, we closed our pantry to visitors and implemented a drive-through method of food distribution. Monday through Friday, you will see long lines of cars surrounding the building as staff and volunteers load vehicles with baskets full of groceries. Our Hidden Treasures thrift stores require masks be worn by staff and customers and at times, need to ask customers to wait outside of our buildings as a precaution. If you drop off a donation of food at our downtown warehouse or clothing and merchandise at our thrift stores, you will be met by a staff member wearing a smile under that mask! Although physically things may look differently, our commitment to serving the community has not changed.

Our staff has a heart for service.

We are very proud to have staff members who are truly dedicated to serving others, with compassion and empathy for those who are in difficult situations. All departments within Caritas have an important role in ensuring our clients are treated with the utmost dignity and respect, from choosing healthy foods for our pantry, to a cheerful “Have a blessed day” to clients as vehicles are loaded, to providing a compassionate ear for those who have nowhere else to turn – our job is to assist in any way possible. Sometimes our clients simply need to know that someone cares – and at Caritas, we do.

We understand that it’s hard to ask for assistance.

Often, clients apologize or are embarrassed to ask for help. We see clients from many different seasons in life. Some come from multiple generations of poverty and yearn to become more self-sufficient. Some find themselves experiencing difficulties due to unexpected medical bills or loss of employment. Some are retired and find that their retirement income doesn’t cover the increasing costs of living longer. And this year, many are experiencing difficulties related to the pandemic – such as loss of employment, layoffs or furloughs. Whatever your situation, just know that you will be treated with the dignity and respect that every person deserves.

We could not exist without amazing community partners.

Before the pandemic, we were very fortunate to have a dedicated base of donors and volunteers who support the important services Caritas provides to the community. But oh my, have we been blessed with an amazing outpouring of love and support during this very difficult year! As with many nonprofits, when the pandemic began affecting communities in the spring, we were worried about being able to provide for our clients. It quickly became evident that those worries were unfounded. Individuals, businesses, foundations, civic organizations, churches and other faith-based organizations showered our organization with support to ensure we would be able to continue providing services to what would become an ever-increasing number of individuals and families in our community. We send a virtual hug to each and every one of you.

The struggles are far from over and the future remains uncertain, so we need your continued support – by volunteering your time to assist in the distribution line for our pantry, by donating food or hosting a food drive, or by supporting us with a monetary donation.

The word “Caritas” means “love” in Latin, and we continue to witness love and humanity as our community comes together to support those who are affected by these trying times.

Thank you all as we continue our quest to move our clients beyond hunger to hope.

Ann Owen entered the nonprofit world as a professional fundraiser in 1997 after serving numerous organizations as a volunteer. She joined the staff of Caritas in 2014 as their first Director of Development, with hopes of making an impact on those in our community who struggle in the grasps of poverty. She currently has the honor of serving as Co-Executive Director at Caritas of Waco. Ann and her husband are lifelong residents of Waco and have two adult children.

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 [email protected] for more information.

Heart of Texas CROP Hunger Walk Goes Virtual!

(Press Release) The leadership team for the Heart of Texas CROP Hunger Walk invites you to our virtual walk on Nov. 15!

Over the past 50 years, tens of thousands of walkers have raised more than $500 million through the annual CROP Hunger Walk. The Heart of Texas CROP Hunger Walk always raises around $2,500, making it one of the most successful fundraisers for a small community walk.

This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social isolation, we are introducing a Virtual walk.

We know that it is crucial that we find new ways to engage our community to continue giving to Church World Service and Caritas of Waco, the two recipients of the walk’s funds. The current pandemic is creating an ever-increasing need for food and resources for our local agencies and around the world. Caritas, for instance, is serving more than twice as many families as it did before COVID-19 reached our community. 

The need is greater than ever. Now, more than ever, is the time to give.

This year the Heart of Texas CROP Hunger Walk and some 700 other communities nationwide are joining together in interfaith walks around the theme Ending hunger one step at a time. 

            Here are four ways to participate:

  1. You can sign up online at https://www.crophungerwalk.org/wacotx and walk on November 15 in isolation or with your family. (Be sure to take photos and announce on social media that you are joining the walk! Go to https://www.facebook.com/HeartofTexasCROPHungerWalk and tag us!)
  2. You can sign up online at https://www.crophungerwalk.org/wacotx and walk in spirit.
  3. You can sponsor someone else who is walking in isolation.
  4. You can video yourself walking before Walk Day and send us the video, which we will incorporate into our virtual presentation, set for 3:00 pm on Nov. 15.  (Videos are due by Oct. 31 to be included in the Nov. 15 presentation. Please email [email protected] for instructions.)

In doing any of these things, you will show your solidarity with the millions of neighbors around the world who must walk to live.  You will also show your solidarity with the millions served by local food pantries, food banks and meal sites in the United States and in our community.

The local beneficiary for the Heart of Texas walk is Caritas of Waco. Founded in 1967, it is a community-wide agency with interfaith support. Located at the corner of 15th & Mary in downtown Waco, the organization normally includes an emergency assistance program for utilities, rent and medicine; two thrift stores and a thrift store warehouse; one of the largest food pantries in Central Texas; and a Case Management program. In March, Caritas reorganized its services, implementing a drive-through food pantry, in order to meet the soaring need and keep its staff and clients safe. The number of people coming to the pantry for food (formerly more than 100 families a day) more than doubled and continues to increase. (For information and updates, call 254-753-4593, go to www.caritas-waco.org, or check the Caritas Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/caritasofwaco.)

The international beneficiary is Church World Service (CWS), the relief and development organization that sponsors CROP Hunger Walks. In an effort to fight hunger and build healthier communities, CWS provides clean water and hygiene training in Vietnam, combats droughts in Nicaragua, and stocks shelves in hundreds of food pantries across the United States. Hundreds of CWS workers are responding in creative ways to COVID-related crises all over the world.

It’s easy to sign up and donate to our walk.  Go to https://www.crophungerwalk.org/wacotx and click “register” or “donate.” You and your team members can make donations by credit card and or PayPal, and a receipt will be sent through email for tax purposes.  Once you sign up, we will send you a link to the Nov. 15 celebration. 

Waco Low Income Healthcare Resources Guide

By Sai Sagireddy

I sit down today with a smile on my face, writing this story after ten-weeks of scrupulous research, calls, emailing, outreach, and one completed medical guide.

I must be honest. In the first few weeks, I didn’t think I could’ve taken on a project of this size. I was frequently drowning under waves of information. I didn’t know how to present what I had. I didn’t know how to continue. More often than not, I felt an urge to close my pen, shut down my laptop, and walk away. But one thing kept me going:

The thought of a disadvantaged person opening a medical guide in Waco, TX, and finding the specific healthcare service they require – free of cost.

This is the goal of the Waco Low-Income Healthcare Resources Guide.

The Start

Back in May, after committing to Baylor, I needed a medical insurance plan.

(For 15 years, I’ve lived in Trinidad & Tobago. Here, general healthcare is free – both for residents and foreigners. So health insurance wasn’t necessary).

In the US, medical costs surprised me. How can low-income families afford this? What are the resources available to them? To me, answers to these questions are so essential, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.

From that day, I worked to comprehend the US healthcare system. I grew to understand the populations within Waco and how they receive care. Many programs cater to disadvantaged Waco residents. However, no resources are available to connect these populations to the plans, so services are potentially being under-used. I wanted to find a way to bring about awareness – a critical factor in effecting change.

Setting the Stone in Place

I brought up my thoughts with a mentor of mine: Cyrus Buckman, Stanford School of Medicine Class of 2024. He motivated me to work on improving healthcare accessibility in Waco. 

A few days later, by chance, I met Ethan Lowder, WashU Class of 2022. He is the president of Heart for the Homeless, a non-profit that aims to improve the health of the homeless through primary care and knowledge. Ethan educated me further on the lifestyle and needs of disadvantaged populations. He told me about his group’s resources project and the healthcare guide for St. Louis, MO.

His expertise showed me that a healthcare resources guide detailing healthcare resources in Waco. Especially so with over twenty-nine percent of the city currently living under the federal poverty line. Upon further conversation, Ethan agreed to mentor me as I author the guide.

The Work

Over seven weeks, I’ve obtained data on healthcare institutions and programs catered for low-income Waco families. For two weeks after that, I’ve used the information gathered to “binge-write” the book.

The project also has contributions from several independent-collaborators. Juan Marinangeli translated the guide into Spanish. Ava Hunwick worked on the guide’s digital design. Sherwin Newton produced the maps. Hannah Payne connected collaborators. Matthew Gopaulchan proof-read the guide and worked on the glossary.

The Guide

The Waco Low-Income Healthcare Resources Guide contains information on over ninety medical institutions and fifteen healthcare programs that cater to low-income families and disadvantaged individuals within the Waco area. It is designed to be a vital tool for homeless individuals & needy populations directly, organizations focused on serving low-income families, and health & social service professionals.

(The guides were designed in a way for homeless populations to find a specific service within a physical copy, by themselves, easily.)

Moreover, it will help homeless shelter directors to inform individuals about healthcare options, student organizations & non-profit groups focused on service, and prehealth & health groups in the Waco area and beyond.





Funding Needs

While an online guide format is very versatile for health & social service working professionals, it will not do for homeless populations. They need physical copies.

The main focus of this project is to remove barriers to healthcare. And technology can become a barrier. These guides can be used by homeless populations directly. However, with limited computer literacy, a homeless individual within a shelter would be unable to use a digital version. They need physical copies. Moreover, in soup kitchens, physical guides can be easily used by transient members to help populations.

We are currently actively seeking funding partners to print 100 physical copies of the guide. These copies will be placed in homeless shelters, organizations, non-profit groups, and departments in Waco for low-income populations to use. They will not be removed from their home locations. They can be borrowed in-house and then returned. If interested, please contact me directly at [email protected].

My sincerest hope is that this guide will go on to help as many individuals as it possibly can.

Some things I learned

Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot.

I now promote a collaborative mindset towards everything I do. This guide would not have been the same without the input & feedback from individuals: both collaborators and mentors. Collaborations allow us to combine particular strengths & skill sets to create the best outcome.

Outside of organized events & projects, I’ve also seen first-hand that creative methods and “outside-the-box” strategies can be successfully used to tackle a problem or need. All it takes is a leap of faith!

I’ve learned the importance of compassionate mentorship. Dr. Diaz-Espinoza, Associate Director of Baylor’s ALD, has been working to gather resources. He introduced me to Mr. Peacock, Assistant Director within Baylor’s External Affairs, and Dr. Beverly, SC, for Community Service. Mr. Peacock has been driving outreach efforts and has identified essential city projects the guide can be integrated with. Without this care and time, our distribution efforts may have been much more challenging.

Final thoughts

Reading back over what I have written makes me think: wow, it has been quite a journey.

Going in, I was lost. I didn’t know where to begin. What to do. Now, I have authored the Waco Low Income Healthcare Resources Guide, a medical services book that contains comprehensive information about the healthcare services available to the needy within Waco. It acts as a bridge that connects these populations to medical services via independent community-based organizations.

Throughout this journey, I’ve found a community equally passionate about service. I’ve gained mentors nationwide who share my goals. I’ve developed a malleable skillset that I can use within my academics and projects. I’m forever grateful!

This guide’s digital edition will soon be available through several online local and regional databases for use. However, we are still actively seeking funding for physical copies.

If you have any questions whatsoever about the project, if you want to get involved in this effort or future project, or if you are a potential financial collaborator, please reach out directly to [email protected].

Sai Sagireddy is an incoming freshman at Baylor University. He is part of Baylor’s University Scholars Cohort Class of 2024 with concentrations in biology/biochemistry, Spanish, and medical humanities (pre-med). He is passionate about research, global health, healthcare management, health equity & health accessibility. In his free time, he enjoys the company of others, settling down a good book, exercising, hiking, traveling, and exploring the outdoors.

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 [email protected] for more information.

East Waco Voices: Feeding the (Healthy!) Body and Soul at Carver Park Baptist Church – Part 2

(Carver Park Baptist Church is helping to lead a healthy food revolution in East Waco through their food related ministries.  They have so much going on that we couldn’t squeeze it into one post. This is Part 2 of the story.  Click here for Part 1.  – ALW)

By Khristian Howard

Carver Park Baptist Church stands as one of the main resources for food in the East Waco community. Their food pantry, open every first and third Friday, serves 120 to 150 people each month. Though doors do not open until 9:30, a line of people from almost every Waco zip code can be seen stretching around the building as early as 8 a.m. Led by Helen Lewis and a team of volunteers from Carver, TSTC, and the community, the food pantry at Carver Park Baptist has proven to be a major resource and lifeline for the residents of East Waco.

In a recent chat with Mrs. Evelyn Moore, one of the leaders of the Carver Park Culinary Arts Ministry, we learned some of the history behind how Carver Park responded to the need for food in the neighborhood and evolved into the fully stocked pantry they run today.

Reflecting on the early days of Carver Park Baptist, Mrs. Moore remembers the events that inspired the opening of their food pantry back in the 80s. “We had a small one [food pantry] that we partnered with TSTC in the 80s. We would carry milk, baby food, and other sustainable things like cereal.” The food pantry effort was a response to the newly adjusted programming at TSTC that allowed women to attend. Mrs. Moore stated, “…young girls that were coming to TSTC were coming with babies and other things trying to improve their lives, and there were many needs not being met because the program was not designed for women.”

In addition to the resources for TSTC students, the church would keep a small selection of shelf stable items for nearby residents who came seeking help.  Usually though, they had to purchase foods to help these individuals to fill in the gaps. Moore stated, “We would have food drives and canned good drives and stuff, but it just was not substantial enough to help all of the people who would come in…so a lot of times they received a check or someone took them grocery shopping.”

 In its beginning, Carver Park’s food pantry was a product of collaboration with a sister church in the area, Lake Shore Baptist Church. In the beginning each church had its own food pantry working to fill food gaps and addressing the needs that affected not only their congregations, but the surrounding communities. Food pantries, however, while a widely popular idea among churches, are generally difficult to keep afloat at a sustainable level. Eventually, the pantry at Lake Shore Baptist closed, and the two churches agreed to have those clients use Carver’s pantry instead.

Eventually, the church gained the capacity to host a full food pantry in partnership with Central Texas Food Bank (CTFB).  The CTFB provides a consistent, low-cost source of food. Partnerships like the one that Carver Park has with CTFB are vital to the sustainability of a pantry. The food that organizations like CTFB provide supports nutritional variety and health.

Helen Lewis keeps a nutritious diet in mind when placing orders with CTFB. She makes a careful selection of fruits, vegetables, and meats, and encourages pantry visitors to try new veggies and fruits before picking up sweets and other shelf stable goods. Her goal is to create a balance of both.  

 While the partnership with CTFB helps keep the pantry is well stocked, Ms. Lewis depends on relationships and collaboration with the community to supply many items as well. One such relationship is with Caritas, who provides in-kind toiletry donations. In addition, the senior group at Carver Park Baptist contributes by having a baking supply drive every February.

Volunteers from the church and TSTC help out on pantry days. Regular pantry users check-in quickly, and volunteers help new clients complete the short intake process that gauges family size and what benefits they can receive.  Once the pantry guests are checked in, volunteers also assist with selecting and carrying food to their cars.

Ms. Lewis and her team have also found a way to reach clients who are unable to physically come to the pantry. The team prepares boxes for clients that are referred to them.  These boxes are delivered to each client’s residence or kept at the ready for neighbors and loved ones to pick up.

Carver Park Baptist is just one example of a church stepping up to meet needs in the East Waco community. Other churches in the area have developed systems to address needs for food assistance, childcare, mentorship, and more. A network is growing of people who have made it their goal to take care of their own in a place where outside services do not always cover the needs. The ladies at Carver Park’s food pantry have shown that a mixture of inside and outside support may just be a reliable model for sustaining a healthy food pantry.

Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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 [email protected] for more information.

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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] for more information.