Need—has many faces. In spite of the changing faces of need, the Good Shepherd Mission in Walker County has made great efforts to meet those needs wherever they appear.
The mission itself is truly the offspring of the Huntsville community. Back during the early 1980s, a group of local citizens recognized a growing problem within the community. One of those concerned was a man known simply as Rev. Powell. “He went around to stores and would get day-old bread and milk that was about to expire,” said Dave Smith, executive director. “He’d pass out these items to people in dire need.” Through those humble efforts, others in the community soon began to pitch in.
“Through the local churches and the ministerial alliance of Huntsville, the mission was born,” continued Smith. “They eventually were able to collect enough money to buy an old house that was located on the present day property. After tearing it down, they began construction of what is the present day facility,” Smith said. “Not bad for something that began on the hood of a station wagon.”
Today, an average of more than 2,100 meals are served on a monthly basis. These hot meals are free of charge, providing a hot lunch and dinner. All are welcomed. The fully functional commercial kitchen will soon serve as a Culinary Arts Center that is sure to uplift and empower many for years to come. Staffing this kitchen is Merry Phillips.
“It’s so beautiful to watch Merry cook and hear her sing gospel all day,” remarked one of the mission residents. “She has a special way of lifting all our hearts with the love she puts into every meal. She really takes pride in what she does.” Through the mission, Phillips has found a better life for herself. “She’s learned to use the computer, write reports, and order food from the food bank and other corporations. She’s really raised the level of professionalism, which will have a huge impact over time,” Smith said.
According to the mission, 1 in 5 within the Walker County community will come to the mission at some point in need of services. “We currently provide meals, lodging, clothing, antibiotics, necessary household items, and furniture, as well as counseling,” Smith said.
Over the years, the changes within the community have been reflected in the mission as well. “Today, we see many more special needs than we’ve ever seen before. Many of those needing services are the elderly and those with mental illness,” Smith said. “We still have those who suffer from different forms of addiction, but that’s only a fraction compared to the poor and marginalized.” Smith believes that people treated as insignificant or peripheral are the results of failed systems within society. “We are starting to see hundreds misdiagnosed or suffering from delayed diagnosis of medical conditions. A lot of this has occurred because of insurance companies or those who don’t fit neatly into some sort of category. Everybody can’t be a superstar athlete or entertainer.”
As the needs of the mission change, so has its relationship with the community. Sam Houston State University as well as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have reached out offering a helping hand toward the mission in decisive and critical matters.
“Different departments within the university have helped us in health matters like offering physical therapy to stroke victims who otherwise could not afford it,” Smith explains. “They’ve also been vital in offering classes on nutrition, counseling, and other social studies.”
Perhaps one of the most vital areas the university has helped the mission is in the growth of food. “We grow a lot of our own vegetables,” Smith recalls. “We’ve had many students volunteer in our raised garden, as well as helping us to become more proficient in growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been instrumental in helping with various types of fundraisers.”
Through the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd Mission gets the most out of its meager budget of around $300,000 per year. Serving the Walker County area along I-45 as well as east and west can, at times, seem like a massive undertaking. Individuals using the mission come from a variety of life-changing circumstances. Yet, for many in this nation, it seems beyond understanding. Even with extreme needs, those caught in the grips of circumstance can still find a way up and a way out. Even with more complicated social dynamics at play, those within our community have always answered the call for help.
Walker County is recognized as the tenth poorest County in Texas. The median household income per family in this county is a fourth less than Montgomery County. The major employers are TDCJ and SHSU. Very few jobs have starting salaries above lower-middle income status. Most do not offer salaries beyond middle-class income. This fact further burdens the charities dealing with human services. “But, it’s amazing how this community responds to those in need,” Smith said. “This mission is the community. There have been times when supplies have gotten low, but we’ve always been able to provide for those who come through our doors.”
While the mission receives no state or federal funding directly, it was one of the first five faith-based organizations to be awarded with a state funded contract (local innovative contract) which was directly involved with welfare reform in an effort to get local families who were physically able to work off welfare. The contract was during the George W. Bush era as Governor. Still, the mission continues to search for innovative grants and funding for helping this community and area raise its quality of life.
“We attempt to help mold people into who God would have them be. How? Primarily, by just keeping the wolves of society at bay,” Smith said. “We try to have a safe environment for each individual to awake each day and try to do the right thing. We try to never put God in a box. We stay with the basic teachings of Jesus Christ recorded in the New Testament.”
One can look at the brokenness in the world, yet take heart that what may seem like a sea of despair offers islands of hope. “I was really in bad shape when I arrived in Huntsville. I had lost my job, home, and my truck. My family seemed to be an eternity away. All my roads were closed,” said one former Good Shepherd resident. “This place helped me find a new start. People before looked at me like I was some type of bad luck accident waiting to happen to them. All I really needed was a hand. I got that here. I don’t know why it was my lot in life to be in Walker County. But, I’m glad I met the folks at the mission who were on a mission to help seek and save a lost soul like myself.”
1005 Martin Luther King Dr.
Huntsville, TX 77320