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.