Thursday, November 17, 2016

Moving Beyond Relief

David came to us looking for food. He's 51 but life on the streets made him look much older. He would park his shopping cart in the shade of our Thrift Store/Food Pantry and slept there at night. Thrift shop manager, Kay Richardson called him our night guard, protecting our properties from vandalism.

Cathy McShane, one of our counselors, worked with David to get him an ID card and a debit card so he could receive his Social Security payments. He had $1600 available but could not access it without a debit card. Once this was settled, he was able to find a place to live.

David is one of many people who are unaware of available resources such as SNAP, medical care, free dental care, etc. It is easy to provide relief in the way of food and clothes to people in need but there are other issues that are less obvious and more important. Every person that comes to us looking for food sits down with a social work student. We work with the client to discover available resources and paths to greater independence.

Most of our social work students come from Our Lady of the Lake University and University of Texas in San Antonio. The students are fulfilling their field work requirements under the supervision of our Community Ministries Program Director Elizabeth Cruz. The students gain valuable, hands-on experience and provide a much-needed service to an under-resourced community.

People come to us with a variety of needs beyond food. One woman told a counselor, through tears, that she didn't need food. She had a job interview but lacked suitable clothes. We were able to find her an outfit in her size that was appropriate for an interview. Our thrift store offers some nice items at nominal prices (most things are less than a dollar). By charging something we take away the stigma of charity and preserve our client's self respect. The thrift shop is open to everyone, not just the needy. Purchases keep serviceable items out of the landfill. Proceeds help fund the food pantry and other community ministries.

Some folks come in to our thrift shop in dire need. A homeless man came in looking for some pants. He'd been wearing the same shorts for three months. He picked out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from the ten cent bin. We did not charge him the the twenty cents.

Our clients receive more than material help. I met a young man one Sunday morning in church wearing a nice suit and some crude tattoos. He had been referred to our thrift store by one of our deacons who volunteers at a rescue mission. He was made to feel so welcome by the seniors who staff the thrift store that he came to church the following Sunday.

Come by our store at 848 E. Drexel if you would like to volunteer, drop off a donation or shop. We are open Tuesdays (9-4), Wednesdays (9-1) and Thursdays (9-1). We are closed Thanksgiving week.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Education and the Most Powerful Weapon

Interns Geraldine (L) and Alicia (R) ready to hand out school supplies.

Guest blog by Geraldine Garcia
Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I agree but I also know that you, yourself, are also a powerful weapon that can be used to help change the world.

To understand my passion for education and the people who have impacted me to try and change the world, you need to step into my world. My family and I refer to this time in our lives as “03”. It was the end of my 7th grade school year. My dad started to get sick and we weren’t exactly sure of the cause. His feet would swell up so bad, he was unable to wear shoes, and his sugar levels were all over the place. He began to miss work and his boss had to let him go. My dad was in and out of the doctor’s office undergoing tests. Foot ulcers would lead to amputation if he didn’t stop working and gain control of his health.

My dad is what we call in Spanish, “trabajador” [worker]. I remember, as a child, my dad worked two, sometimes three jobs, just so we could have what we needed and a little extra. Growing up, my sisters and I didn’t have much but we did have all the necessities and love, which goes along way. We didn’t know anything else so we thought we lived pretty good.

“03” changed everything for us. Now, my mother was the main bread winner, and my dad was struggling with health issues; coming to the realization that he no longer could take care of his family the way he used to.

Somehow, we managed to stick together as a team. The Bible teaches, “for I know the plans I have for you declares the lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11.)”

The struggles my family faced that summer came and went and I realized school would be starting soon. The best way to sum up how I felt about school was simple; I just didn’t want to go. I remember clearly going into my closet trying to dig out old school supplies and looking for the pencils and pens that still “looked new”. This way the kids around me couldn’t tell that they were the same old supplies from last year. We needed assistance paying our light bill and turned to our neighborhood church. It was here that my family met Maggie.

Maggie was a warm-hearted, caring volunteer who was able to offer us some assistance. During one of our meetings, she asked me if I was ready for school. I didn’t know how to answer her. Do I tell her the truth or just smile and nod my head? She could tell I wasn’t looking forward to the new year. When she finished talking to my dad, she ask me how many of my sisters were in school (At that time it was my older sister and I.) and asked me to follow her to a room with new school supplies laid out on tables. She told me to take an HEB bag and go around the table and fill it with the amount listed of each particular school supply. She gave me an extra bag so I can fill it with supplies for my sister.

“Hope anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:19).”

My hope was restored in that moment, by an act of kindness. Although I was only 12, I knew that I never wanted to feel hopeless again. I didn’t want other kids to feel discouraged to go back to school because they didn’t have supplies.

Once the school year progressed and my family got back on track, I didn’t forget the kindness or generosity I felt. I started to attend the church that helped my family, and every summer I would buy not only my school supplies but extra. I would wait and collect and find families that needed the help and donate it to them. I’ve done this just about every year. Now as a teacher I find myself stocking up for my kiddos and classroom.

Children are our future. If we don’t invest in them, who will? One day these kids will be doctors, lawyers, financial advisers, and educators for generations to come. So, I leave you with these final thoughts. First and foremost, I am grateful to be a part of this extravaganza that will impact the lives of many children.

Thank you for allowing me to reflect on my own personal experiences and draw strength from them. I feel that I have the best of both worlds because, as a teacher, “we take a hand, open a mind, and touch a heart” and, as social worker John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, “one person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Geraldine Garcia is an elementary school teacher and masters level student in the social work program of OLLU. She served an internship through Baptist Temple Ministries where she provided counseling and groceries to the food insecure, free meals to the communities and tutoring for at risk children.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Churches Partner to Create a First-Rate VBS experience in the Inner-City

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is the highlight of the year for Baptist churches. It is an opportunity to teach children about Jesus and make contact with new families. This year we had a spectacular VBS on the Baptist Temple campus. Not because of our enrollment, 249, nor the number of workers, 96, not even the 32 professions of faith. Many churches have eclipsed those numbers. What was remarkable was that four churches sharing an inner-city campus joined forces to provide a top caliber VBS experience. The congregations included a Spanish language and a Deaf congregation. A 30 member short-term mission team from Houston added to both the success and the extraordinary nature of this bold ministry endeavor.

The stories are even more noteworthy than the numbers. The 32 professions of faith included children whose families are hostile to the gospel. This is not a dark cloud overshadowing a joyful event. This is the light of Jesus penetrating the darkness. “This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine,” will be the theme song of these young lives.

One woman, who recently committed her life to Christ, asked for a copy of the adult VBS class picture. It was her first Bible study. Ruby, one of our seniors, attended the adult class. She was not sure why God led her to attend until she gave away a Bible on the first day. She brought a Bible to give away each day of VBS.

Our mission project this year was to prepare emergency meal bags. One child overheard another telling us he had no food at home. He decided to give his bag to the hungry boy.

Hunger is a problem in our community. Over 90% of the children in our three closest elementary schools qualify for free and reduced lunches. We provided a free dinner each night for the folks involved with VBS, along with a healthy snack.

VBS helps us to minister to both the spiritual and physical needs of our community. Moreover, we created new relationships through which we can share God's love to the families in our community.