Lending a hand
Non-profit groups offer food, clothing, health care and more for those in need
By Lisa Kay Tate
Sometimes, people may find themselves in need of a little extra help.
The loss of a job or housing, a recent divorce, a sudden death, health problems or other emergency can quickly become a financial crisis. No matter the reason, El Paso has a variety of resources for people in need of temporary assistance. Food banks throughout the city help people stretch their grocery budget, and there are even hot meal programs. Some organizations tackle major needs such as housing and health, and others fill in the gaps for people short on money to buy clothes, furniture or even books for their kids.
Food is the most essential of all basic needs, and El Paso has food pantries in nearly every neighborhood, most of them supported by El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank.
“Right now we have 132 brick and mortar pantries throughout the area, and 144 mobile pantries,” said Chief Development Officer Bonnie Escobar, noting that more than 100 of those are supplied by the food bank.
“The mobile pantries are ‘client choice,’ and set up kind of like a farmer’s market. People can pick and choose what they want or need,” she said, with some locations drawing up to 500 people per visit.
Some have long-term needs, while others may be in a temporary bind, she said. To qualify for food from the pantries, everyone must fill out a form establishing their need. “In the area, one in four people fall below the poverty line, so very many will qualify.”
“In just the past two years, we have tripled in size,” she said. “We have gone from serving 10.5 million pounds of food distributed each year, to 32.5 million pounds at the end of 2019.”
The food bank is always looking for volunteer help in its pantries, including the mobile panties. One way the food bank has increased its volunteer options is with its “Twilight Volunteering” program for those for unable to help during the day. Volunteers can come in about 5 to 5:30 p.m. the first and third Thursday of every month to learn about the food bank and enjoy refreshments before working 6 to 9 p.m.
Escobar said this is a great opportunity for civic, business and even youth groups to come and help out. She said area high school honor groups recently took advantage of those hours to volunteer.
Mustard Seed Café
Help is not only available from the city’s many food pantries, but also from places where people can enjoy a prepared meal. One such place is the “pay what you can” Mustard Seed Café, located at Westside Community Church at 201 E. Sunset.
Executive Director Christi Brown said the Mustard Seed arose from a need she had years ago to do something about hunger in the community. She had heard of a place in Waco, called “The Gospel Café” that offered a pay-what-you-can meal, and visited there to learn more about their business model for starting something similar in El Paso. She and two friends, Patsy Burdick and Shelley Speicher, began working to make the café a reality.
They started serving meals from a food cart after school to kids in the Downtown area with support from the nonprofit organization Ciudad Nueva in late 2013. They later moved into First Christian Church on Arizona but lost their lease after four years. Within a few months Pastor Joe Williams of Westside Community Church contacted them.
“He wanted an outreach to help serve the hungry and spiritually hungry,” Brown recalled, “and said ‘you already do that, so why don’t you come do it here?’”
The Mustard Seed has been at the Sunset location for about a year and a half. Westside Community Church also offers a food pantry the first Thursday of every month, a clothes closet during church office hours, and crisis pregnancy help.
The café is open to everyone. Guests may pay what they can, if they can. If they want to return the favor, they may also volunteer an hour as a way to “pay it forward.”
Much of the food from the café is grown on site, at its adjacent garden, and volunteer opportunities are also offered there as well.
“We do serve amazing, nutritious, delicious yummy food,” Brown said. “We also serve hugs, a listening ear, and sometimes The Gospel.”
In addition to their regular lunch hours, the café has hosted a community meal the first Wednesday of the month, but is now planning on expanding it to every Wednesday evening, from 5 to 7 p.m.
“It is more than just a free meal,” Brown said. “It is God’s love in action.”
Brown said the café not only relies on donations, ranging from furniture to fresh vegetables, as well as financial gifts, but also its corps of volunteers. Individuals of all ages help prepare and serve the food, and many are people who came for a meal then signed up to help. Youth workers include Canutillo High School’s special education students who learn vocational skills while serving the community.
One of the oldest organizations serving the needy in El Paso is the Salvation Army, currently led by Majors Florian and Eloisa Estrada. The local chapter has been an active organization in El Paso since 1899.
Salvation Army spokesperson Martha Anchondo said the Salvation Army provides many different services at the main location on Paisano, near the El Paso County Coliseum.
“We are the only family shelter in El Paso as we house families, single men and single women,” she said. “We have a soup kitchen daily at 6 p.m. in which we feed anyone that is in need of a hot meal.”
The soup kitchen is open for those in the shelter 5 to 6 p.m., but also 6 to 7:30 p.m. for anyone outside the center in need of a hot meal. They also have a food pantry open daily 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a food box for anyone in need of food.
Food and shelter are just two of their offerings, according to Anchondo.
“We have a thrift store in which we provide all of our clients with a clothing voucher and anyone in the community in need of clothing, shoes and a jacket,” Anchondo said. “We also assist individuals in the community with paying rent and utilities to include our veterans.”
The Army’s Family Store at 3920 Morehead is open at 10 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and is one of the ways Salvation Army raises money for its services, with 83 cents to every dollar spent going to help El Pasoans in need. The rest of the revenue covers store overhead.
Anchondo said one of the biggest assets of the Salvation Army is its people, who help people not only in their time of need, but to help them be able to better provide for themselves in the future.
“We work with amazing case workers who provide case management to our clients in order to assist them in being self sufficient and productive citizens,” she said.
The Lord’s Table
Near Downtown is an outreach that offers both food and clothing: The Lord’s Table. Located at 2001 Magoffin, The Lord’s Table began in 2017 as a ministry of Cielo Vista Church. They host a food pantry 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the first Saturday of each month. Anyone with a Texas ID can receive one bag of food.
Virginia Lawyer of the Lord’s Table said this need has grown as the year came to a close.
“We plan for about 150 households, but the last three months we have gotten more people,” Lawyer said. “We’re looking to increase our supply to serve about 200 households in the near future.”
The Lord’s Table also hosts seasonal community meals, as well with three coming up in 2020: one in April, July, and in December.
Those in need of clothing can find help through The Lord’s Table, as well, with Clothes Closet open 10 a.m. to noon the third Saturday of each month. There is no ID needed to receive clothes, and each individual is allowed to pick five items. About 80 people visit the closet each month.
Lawyer said there are about 10 steady volunteers, about half working with the panty and half with the clothes closet. Donations are welcome, including unexpired, non-perishable food items. Clean, gently used clothes and shoes for the clothes closet are also accepted, as well as new, unused undergarments.
She said being able to see the faces of the people who are helped by The Lord’s Table makes it worth the effort, as it is more than just distributing items to those who need it. Even if there is something someone needs they do not have, they can help point them in the right direction, or at the very least, offer an encouraging prayer.
“Just to be able to get to know the needs of other and be able to hear what they need can rewarding,” Lawyer said. “It’s about building those relationships.”
For nearly 50 years, El Paso Baptist Clinic has provided a lifeline of healthcare for people who had no where else to turn.
The clinic at 2700 N. Piedras is open every Saturday on a walk-in basis, beginning at 8 a.m., with up to 70 volunteers serving each week. Founded by Eleanor Poe, a registered nurse, the clinic has served over 22,000 people. No fees are charged, although the clinic suggests a $5 donation to help with operating costs.
“No one will be turned away because of the inability to give towards the care, ” said Sylvia Weakley, RN, the clinic’s executive director.
The order and time in which one is seen depends on how many volunteer providers have been scheduled, the reason for the visit and the number of people who have signed in. Weakley does recommend people arrive no later than 9 a.m. to register. There are some services not available through their clinic, including services for pregnant women.
Weakley said the clinic is always looking for volunteers: “(Opportunities) range from clerical work, nursing duties, phlebotomists, dieticians, translators and for local physicians and dentists to volunteer their time and expertise on Saturdays,” she said. “Since we do not receive government or state funding the best way to help is through monetary giving. This will allow us to utilize the funds where they are needed the most whether it is for supplies and or medications.”
Sometimes, when people receive help from these clinics, they are anxious to return the favor. Weakley told the story of one 63-year-old patient she referred to a “Mrs. C,” who had been struggling most of her life.
“She has a long-standing history with depression, anxiety, seizure disorder and hypertension,” Weakley said. “Before coming to us, she had been going to another clinic, but due to her inability to pay for her care she was turned away.”
Weakley said when she first came to the clinic she was homeless and had ran out of medications.
“She had nowhere else to go,” she said. “She had no family willing to take care of her. She can’t read or write and progressively has been losing her vision to end stage glaucoma. Because of her issues, she was having difficulties managing her medications but did not want to burden anyone.”
They noticed discrepancies with her medications such as, missed dosages or medication taken too frequently, and the clinic helped remedy this by filling a monthly pillbox for her to make it easier and safer for her to be compliant with her medications.
“She is a kind and humble woman,” Weakley said. “Each Saturday she brings food to the clinic that is given to her by a local storeowner, to distribute to other patients at the clinic. She enjoys helping others who are also in need. Although she doesn’t have much, she gives all she can and asks nothing in return.”
Centro De Salud Familiar La Fe, Inc., which began in 1967 as Father Rahm Clinic, has served the low-income community for more than 50 years. Today, La Fe hosts clinics in nine sites around the city, including an optometry center, and pediatric and child wellness center. The clinic serves all patients regardless of ability to pay, although they do require that patients register to become a member of La Fe before receiving services. This can be done by calling 545-7018 or online at lafe-ep.org.
Help the helping hands
Here’s how to contact just a few of the places who help reach out to others.
• El Pasoans Fighting Hunger: The food bank is located at 9541 Plaza Circle, and can be reached at 298-3535, or email@example.com. Online registration for volunteers is also available at elpasoansfightinghunger.org. They also maintain a presence on both Facebook and Instagram with news and updates.
• El Paso Baptist Clinic: To volunteer or make a donation, visit the clinic in person at 2700 N. Piedras, call 532-5398, or visit elpasobaptistclinic.org.
• The Mustard Seed: The café is located at 201 E. Sunset Road, and is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Those interested in helping may call 440-7333 (SEED), or learn more at mustardseedcafe.org.
• The Lord’s Table: Located at 2001 Magoffin, people interested in volunteering may visit during regular hours 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. People may call 303-5160 for more information, or follow on Facebook at @thelordstableEP to learn about needs and events.
• Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe: Their main location is 1314 Yandell. La Fe hosts fundraising events throughout the year, including their Father’s Day 5K in June and their Navidad de La Fe Luminarias in December, the latter of which includes donation of non-perishable goods and monetary donations. Monetary donations may be made through their website at lafe-ep.org. Information: 534-7979 or on Facebook.
• Salvation Army: The Salvation Army is located at 4300 E. Paisano. For information on how to help, call 544-9811 or visit salvationarmytexas.org/elpaso or on Facebook page @SalArmyElPasoTX.
A drop box for clothing donations is available at the Family Store at 3920 Morehead; pickups are available by calling 565-6532.
Copyright 2020 by Cristo Rey Communications