Program aids heart of Waco community

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Local nonprofit organization Shepherd’s Heart feeds 3,000 Waco families in need per month, clothes children and families, counsels the down-and-out and helps those who are homebound.

This year Shepherd’s Heart’s food pantry has fed more than 30,000 families, said Robert Gager, executive director of Shepherd’s Heart. Besides operating a food pantry, Shepherd’s Heart performs multiple other services. The organization delivers groceries to 350 homebound senior citizens per week.

“I call them the stealth population,” Gager said. “They stay in their homes and nobody knows that they’re even there.”

Shepherd’s Heart has five network pantries in Waco and one in Hubbard, and it will be adding three more in Robinson, Lorena and Elm Mott, Gager said.

Shepherd’s Heart has a program called Noah’s Heart, which provides coaching for people to overcome poverty. Gager said Shepherd’s Heart will counsel people once a month who come to the organization in need by having them meet with other nonprofits providing a variety of different services. The nonprofits educate people on the resources the organizations offer, based on a particular individual’s needs. Gager said the point of this assistance goes beyond meeting basic needs for people.

“We find ways to assist them, but it’s really about creating relationships with them so we can coach them up out of poverty,” Gager said of those in need.

Gager said he is looking at financial programs to work with that can teach people how to get out of poverty. He may even create his own, he added.

“It’s not going to take rocket science to create a program to help these folks,” Gager said.

Shepherd’s Heart also offers a clothing ministry, called Things From the Heart Resale, located on Bosque Boulevard. Shepherd’s Heart supplies garments to Waco Independent School District children who don’t have enough clothes, Gager said. Shepherd’s Heart works alongside other organizations that assist those who are coming out of jail, giving them clothes as well. Whatever clothes Shepherd’s Heart doesn’t give away in charity, it sells through its resale store.

Kathy Wigtil, case manager in Homeless Outreach Services at Waco Independent School District, said vouchers from Shepherd’s Heart are distributed to Waco ISD, and the schools’ counselors and social workers can give the vouchers to children whose families are in need. Families can take the vouchers to Things From the Heart Resale and use them to obtain clothes. Waco ISD has serviced 46 children with the vouchers, according to Shepherd’s Heart’s website.

“There are already almost 700 students that we have identified as homeless,” Wigtil said. “By the end of this year it will probably be up to 1,500.”

To address clothing need issues at Waco ISD, the district practices school uniform recycling, Wigtil said, but families need other items, especially winter coats.

“They’re great,” Wigtil said of Shepherd’s Heart. “We just appreciate them so much.”

Baylor has volunteered with Things From the Heart Resale shop. Last month students from the Baylor Leadership Living and Learning community volunteered and helped out with the resale store, Gager said. Last Saturday Baylor fraternity Delta Sigma Pi assisted Gager in setting up the store’s upcoming second location in Hewitt, and students from Steppin’ Out will also assist Shepherd’s Heart this year.

Things From The Heart Resale provides 40 percent of Shepherd’s Heart’s income, Gager said.

“We survive by community donations,” he said. “We have no grants, no federal funding, and I don’t want federal funding particularly, because we’re a faith-based organization. For people who will allow us to pray with them, we’ll pray with them. I don’t want some federal program telling me I can’t do that.”

Shepherd’s Heart is also funded by about 12-14 churches in town, Gager said. The rest of the organization’s money comes from individual donations. Gager said 21 churches are represented in volunteers who assist Shepherd’s Heart.

“So this is like the body of Christ working together,” he said.

Gager wants to eventually be creating jobs in the community, he said, hoping to employ more people in the organization’s resale shops, as well as expand the organization and create more jobs.

“I want to help people,” he said. “I want to make some change. I feel like that’s something I’m supposed to do.”
Gager said he wants to help people help themselves.

“We want to be more than just assisting people with food,” he said. “We want to help them physically as well as spiritually. We want to find a way to free them from the bondage that they’re in.”