By Adam Gibson | Assistant News Editor
Poverty in Waco is a real issue. It can hinder people’s ability to put food on the table or find a place to stay every night. The Shepherd’s Heart is a non-profit working to end this poverty, not only in Central Texas, but on Baylor’s campus as well.
The Shepherd’s Heart mission is “To feed, clothe, empower, and advocate for families in need in our community, demonstrating to them the love of God,” according to its website.
The Shepherd’s Heart started as just a pantry eight years ago. Operations Manager Carrie Greenley said that despite being one of the largest food pantries in central Texas, The Shepherd’s Heart is much more than just a pantry now.
“We also have an empowerment center that we started this past year and that’s offering classes,” Greenley said. “For example we offer cooking classes and we use the food that you can get in the pantry to cook those items to teach people how to cook and use those things because there may be something they haven’t heard of before like a rutabaga or a turnip or something, they don’t know what to do with them.”
Other than classes dealing with food or food donations, Greenley also said they work to teach skills most people will need through other classes.
“We teach computer classes and are also getting ready to start our financial class so that people can learn to manage finances, learn how to open a bank account and just various things like that, that you think most people would know but not everyone does,” Greenley said.
As far as the pantry goes, The Shepherd’s Heart has a distribution day every Thursday where people are allowed to come once a month. While there, people are served with food and groceries that they may need. Greenley said last year over 29,000 families were served from the pantry and that they help close to anywhere between 500 and 1,000 people a week.
On Baylor’s campus, there is a food pantry called The Store that is open twice a week in the Sid Richardson building. Executive Director of The Shepherd’s Heart Robert Gager said he is glad there is finally a food pantry on campus that Baylor students have access to and that he wants to continue to support students and provide food for them whenever they need it.
“They [students] would call me or email me to see if they could get some help. They would call me when the pantry wasn’t open and needed food and there were times when the students didn’t have transportation,” Gager said. “I would go there and pick them up, get them to the pantry, give them some food, take them home and we have been doing that for a while. I’m really glad that you have a pantry there on campus because that is really right where you need it … I’ll continue doing whatever I can, if they contact me I’m going to help them.”
Several different organizations from Baylor go to The Shepherd’s Heart Pantry and volunteer to help out with whatever Gager or Greenely need.
Gager said he is glad that they come to volunteer and are able to witness something they may not be used to seeing and a different lifestyle that people are living.
“They see something in the community that is different than what they are familiar with and their normal environment and what happens is you see that servants heart come out of them because they keep coming back to serve,” Gager said.
Greenley added that poverty is a major issue in the Waco Independent School District itself and how many families are affected by poverty.
“For the school system, for Waco ISD alone, over 95 percent of the kids are on free lunch or reduced lunches and some schools are at 100 percent for that,” Greeneley said. “There are a lot of homeless, 1100 to 1300 children or kids and students in Waco ISD are considered homeless as well, which means they may be couch surfing, parents that are absent, they may be living with a grandparent or friend, but they actually do not have a home address or a place to call home. It is a staggering statistic. It’s a staggering number.”
The Shepherd’s Heart is continually working to provide for these kids who don’t know where there next meal is coming from through the pantry. Their funds come from churches, volunteers and others who donate to the organization. Grager said it is important to serve the community so they can view the poverty crisis with their own eyes.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to see what is going on in our community and to do something about it,” Grager said.