Gospel Café fills stomachs, feeds souls in poverty-stricken Waco

Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist Eileen Conovero serves a meal to a Gospel Cafe guest.

By Courtney Sosnowski | Reporter

Before the doors opened to welcome the growing line of hungry people, the kitchen workers of the Gospel Cafe linked arms and prayed for God to nourish the folks coming in.

From 11:30-1:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at 825 S. 10th St., the Gospel Cafe feeds over 100 people in need. On Sundays, the main dining area is converted to the meeting space of CrossTies Church.

“We were called to this area,” said Sherry Castello, the volunteer coordinator and kitchen manager. “But we didn’t know anything about poverty.”

Castello, one of the founders of CrossTies Ecumenical Church, has worked in the Gospel Cafe kitchen since the beginning. The building that was once a fixer-upper has been remodeled and extended throughout the last 21 years to include a kitchen, two dining rooms and space in the back for the church to use as prayer rooms and meeting space. From the blue paint on the outside, to the pictures and banners hung up inside, the space feels as casual and inviting as a home.

The volunteers are the backbone of the Gospel Café. Members of CrossTies, as well as other churches around Waco, send volunteers to help serve the food on a weekly or monthly basis. On this particular Friday, the chicken spaghetti and enchilada casserole were provided by Festive Occasions catering.

As the line began to form for the buffet, the kitchen staff smiled at the diners across the counter between the kitchen and the main dining room, and asked what they wanted. Although cooking and preparations started as early as 7 a.m., the kitchen still bustled with activity. Someone scooped the casserole, someone served the salad, and another filled glasses with ice as the plate went down the line. In the background, the dishwasher and other cooks would bring fresh supplies to the servers, as well as make sandwiches, hot dogs or coffee upon request.

Outside the kitchen, a team of servers ensured that the diners had full cups and their pick of dessert. The famous Banoffe — banana and toffee — pie went fast. Once customers finished eating, the servers collected the dishes to take back to the kitchen to be cleaned.

Stephanie Bush has helped out as a server over the last 18 years.

“It’s a very happy place to be,” Bush said. “It makes you feel grateful – doing something for the community.”

The Gospel Cafe, located on 10th and Cleveland less than a mile from Baylor’s campus, has seen some development in the downtown area, but still lies on the edge of a low-income neighborhood. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data between 2011-2015, at least 20 percent of families in Waco live below the poverty line.

All sorts can be found inside; some are regulars, while others were visiting for the first time. Some live down the street, others have ended up in Waco for various reasons, like one woman who left her home in Houston due to recent flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

“It’s like a home, except you don’t sleep here,” Bush said. “You just eat here and keep people laughing and talking.”

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