loria Garcia is waiting in line at Community Family Center for a truck to arrive loaded with produce. It’s 9 a.m., and the 18-wheeler that usually delivers around 7 a.m. is late.
Every weekday, Community Family Center distributes food staples through its food pantry, but Friday is special. That’s when the fresh fruits and vegetables arrive. About a thousand people in this East End neighborhood pick up food for their families.
On a Friday several months ago, it nearly didn’t happen.
“Yesterday, for the first time in all the years we’ve had our fresh-food Fridays, the Food Bank called to cancel delivery,” said Margaret Valero, who oversees the food pantry at Community Family Center. “Crops across the county have been so damaged by severe weather that they just didn’t have anything. I arranged for us to purchase at least some basics—beans, rice and milk—for a thousand families.”
Later that day Ms. Valero received a second call from the Food Bank.
“The Food Bank had just received potatoes, bananas, figs and chips—and they sent all of it to us,” she said. “The experience showed me again how God has blessed us tremendously here. We sometimes get down to very little, but no one has ever left our center empty-handed. I don’t worry how we will provide, because He provides.”
Community Family Center has served its East End neighborhood for 35 years, and for the past several years has received support from St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities, the largest charity in the Houston area devoted solely to health. During its 10 years, The Charities has awarded more than $66 million to programs throughout 30 counties of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. These programs have touched the lives of 10 million individuals, carrying out The Charities’ mission to reach the medically underserved—body, mind and spirit.
“St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities has supported us since it began the East End Collaborative, a cooperative effort to provide a range of services for this area,” said Maritza Guerrero, executive director of Community Family Center. “The Charities has supported our teen pregnancy, after-school nutrition and early childhood primary care programs, and most recently has committed $250,000 for a wonderful playground, one component of our Magnolia Park Redevelopment plan. Other parts of the plan are the Barbara Bush Education Center, the John P. McGovern Sports Building and the Zina Garrison Tennis Academy.”
The East End of Houston is a medically underserved area. Nearly 25 percent of Texans and 32 percent of Houstonians do not have health insurance. Houston has the highest rate of uninsured of all major metropolitan areas in the nation.
Community Family Center provides a wide range of social services to its neighborhood—such a wide range that it’s difficult to name a need that the Center doesn’t fill. Teen mental health in the schools and substance-abuse prevention. Early childhood education, English as a Second Language, SAT preparation and GED classes. Cooking and nutrition classes. Daily food pantry and fresh-produce Fridays. Childhood injury prevention and parenting classes.
“Whatever our neighbors need, we are here to give,” said Ms. Guerrero.
Gloria Garcia has benefited from more than the fresh-produce Fridays. She originally came to Community Family Center with her mother, who has received services since 1988 and who volunteered at the center for many years. Her mother rarely comes now, said Ms. Garcia, because she has had a stroke and at 92 stays at home, cared for by her daughter.
“Both my mother and I took English classes here, and at times the center has helped with rent and power bills,” she said. “They helped me get a Gold Card for medical care, and they referred me for eye care and to see a dentist.”
“Now there are just the two of us,” she added. “She cannot get out, but I come here on Friday, when I need some health care, or to get help writing a letter. Everyone in the neighborhood feels the Center is really the center of the neighborhood. It gives us so much—English classes, the health clinic, food and many other services. I’m very thankful.”