From the Garden of Eden to Utopia
at the Table in San Angelo, TX
When in San Angelo, we – the lovely ladies of the Texas at the Table: Project Go Road Trip – saw the service of many churches and community folks coming together to meet the needs of their neighbors. San Angelo was the third stop on the Texas at the Table Road Trip to explore how people across Texas creatively address hunger in their communities – or more simply, exploring where food comes from, who gets it, and who doesn’t.
Day Six (the evening): Arrival in San Angelo. Jumping in head-first, our first stop on Sunday evening was Southland Baptist Church, home-base for much of the San Angelo’s work with the Texas Hunger Initiative. In fact, San Angelo was targeted for our road trip largely due to the good work of Carol Rigby Hiebert and Mary Herbert with the Texas Hunger Initiative in San Angelo. Tonight’s visit entailed clean-up crew for Southland’s VBS program, after a hearty meal of hot dogs and potato chips. I, Bethel, tried discreetly to sneak in some carrots from the Downtown Art Market in Lubbock to munch on for dinner – which satisfied my initial hunger until we settled into our new home for the next couple of days at the Baptist Memorial Retirement Home. Yes, we basked in the glorious accommodations of a retirement home while in San Angelo. God and his hospitality can be quite charming.
Day Seven: Monday morning we head to Rust Street Ministries and meet Cowboy Bob, a true West Texan cowboy. His real name is Bob Knox, also the director of Rust Street Ministries. Cowboy Bob tells us that RSM is a social service agency run out of a converted warehouse, distributing food (including fresh produce from the Garden of Eden), clothing, furniture and good cheer to all who come through the doors. First things first, our time starts with a devotion and sharing of fresh peaches, brought in by a neighbor. Next, a tour and then to work. A few of the gals stayed up front meeting with folks who came in for assistance, while the rest of us sorted clothing in the free store collection area. We were also able to scour the racks for some farm-work clothes while in McAllen – which inevitably led to much plaid and pearl-snaps as well as tattered jeans.
Around lunchtime, we headed to historic Fort Concho for Kids Eat, a summer feeding site in San Angelo. In San Angelo, the summer lunch program is coordinated by churches in the community, not through the school district or a food bank. Volunteers from various churches join together to make sure food is freely available to all in the community – especially kids – who need it. Cowboy Bob emphasizes the necessity of an ecumenical approach towards serving community – no church can be the body of Christ alone. Rather than helping service lunch, we are free to greet and eat with kids and their families. Much to the chagrin of the Road Trippers, lunch consisted of a hot dog and beans. Two consecutive days of hot dog meals conjured up images from Food, Inc., and our time at the Farm in Waco – and more questions about the state of our food system.
After lunch, we visited the Garden of Eden, a community garden coordinated by Cowboy Bob. In its first season, the Garden of Eden was established by a plea to a local church from Cowboy Bob to start a garden – and $15,000 was raised to sow and reap. Of all the okra and melons and more grown, 50% of the produce is donated to the Rust Street Ministries to distribute to community folks. A number of folks from the neighboring low-income senior housing units help provide a good amount of labor to keep the garden growing even in the midst of the West Texas dry heat. Additional support is provided by area Master Gardeners on Monday nights, when the gardeners gather together.
Day Eight: Another early morning. Local wisdom informed us that the Concho Valley Farmers Market sells out fast – so we had to the market opening at 7am to find fresh produce for our meal later that evening. Carol Hiebert guides us through the market, where we acquire fresh figs, peaches, red onions, sweet corn, elephant garlic, beets, bell peppers, and summer squash. I made a side purchase of amaranth seed from a lovely lady saving and selling seeds from her own garden.
From the Farmers Market we made our way to serve at the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen at Wesley United Methodist Church. Little did we know that we were to be the sole staff preparing the meal this noonday’s lunch. Starting with leftovers, we reheated enchiladas, greens, and rolls, then set to the task of making salad, spaghetti, and sweet tea. Daily Bread also has a relationship with the local Olive Garden, which donates extra soup. Today’s soup du jour: minestrone. No one is refused food. Seconds are freely given. Under the tutelage of hard workin’, tough lovin’ Pam, we managed to feed all who walked through the door, while pausing for a devotion and hymn-sing led by a neighbor in the midst of the lunch-feedin’ fury. Before leaving, a donation of fresh summer squash arrived from Rust Street Ministries, and we began to prep for tomorrow’s meal.
As a brief interlude, we went back to Fort Concho to meet with Cowboy Bob for a tour – and some down-home cookin’. Dutch oven peach cobbler, made in under the sweltering heat of the West Texas sun. (Interesting fact: many of the African-Americans in San Angelo are descendents of Buffalo Soldiers who defended Fort Concho).
Mildly exhausted, we traveled back to the retirement home to meet with fellow residents (of the young variety), Sarah and Jeremy Boucher – former Go Now missionaries now working with Kathy Waller and her husband, Terry, who started the organization Water for All. Sarah, Jeremy and Kathy shared their stories – travels and travails – of doing the work of the Lord in many places around the world – now for Water for All, which hand-digs and installs wells for increasing access to water in small communities. When they are not in the mission field, their home-base is San Angelo, where they attempt to live simply in order to avoid debt and other pitfalls that would chain them down to comfortable American lifestyles. Instead, they hope to be free to the possibilities to serve whenever and wherever they feel God calling.
Our final event for the day was hosted in the home of Tommy and Carol Rigby-Hiebert, gracious hosts of our time in San Angelo and members of Southland Baptist Church. The gals gathered and crafted our meal from the local fixins we picked up from the farmers market that morning, supplemented by local Mikulik sausage. Along with an education of what real food looks and tastes like, the gals were increasing in their capacity to prepare a wonderfully delicious dinner: corn on the cob, beet and beet green salad tossed in peanut sauce, onion-pepper-squash sautee, local sausage, and fresh fruit dessert of cantaloupe and yellow watermelon.
Day Nine: A good nights rest, and then we packed up for our official day-off: a trip to the hill country en route to San Antonio. We stopped for lunch in Utopia, TX, at the Lost Maples Cafe where we enjoyed slices of home-baked pies (chocolate, cherry and buttermilk), before an afternoon floating down the Frio River in Concan and an evening in a cabin at Neal’s Lodges.
End Day Nine. End Part Three.
(More thoughts from other Road Trippers can be found on the Texas at the Table blog here: San Angelo… July 11th – 14th)