Bethany Christian Church Food Pantry
3507 E. 12th St., Austin, TX 78721
Bethany Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a small, predominantly African American congregation on East 12th Street. They are serving a great need in the 78721 and 78723 zip codes by distributing food the second Wednesday and fourth Tuesday of each month, except for November and December. Currently Bethany serves 50 families a month with food from the Capital Area Food Bank and other sources, including donations. The church members also pool their newspaper coupons for toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, diapers, wipes and other necessities that the Food Bank does not provide, and one of the members does the shopping at HEB, Randall's, and other stores. If you work on a distribution day, you will enjoy being with the wonderful and humorous members of Bethany, plus you will see close up the people they serve. In December Bethany also sells pecans to raise money for the kitchen. There is a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board for helping at the pantry. If you have any questions, please contact April Boardman.
Compiled with the help of Alice Bowser, John Long, Dotty Casey, Virginia Hemphill, John and Carol Kolsti, Kenneth Dalley, and Charlie Jamison.
Our history with Bethany Christian Church goes back years, from before the merger of Pecan Springs Christian Church with Trinity United Church of Christ, when all three churches were located in East Austin and Bethany was a sister church to Pecan Springs.
John Long remembers that Bethany Christian and Pecan Springs Christian were both mission congregations of the Joint Board of Christian Churches for many years. At Bethany, I.Q. Hurdle was a retired educator and a steady influence in the congregation. Bruce Bowser was the minister and lived at the church when John came as minister to Pecan Springs in 1966. Bethany was always active in community events and shared in the sponsorship of children from Juliette Fowler Home who came to the area each summer for a camping experience at Camp Haywood on Lake LBJ, then a facility owned by the Christian Churches of the area. At the time John came, the Pecan Springs Church had pews which were from the old Swedish Lutheran Church downtown. When new pews were purchased, the old ones were given to Bethany and since that time they have been donated to another congregation.
Carol Kolsti has records showing that Tim and Amy Tutt came to the Pecan Springs congregation after the sale of the Pecan Springs property and while the church was nesting at Messiah Lutheran across Cameron Road from Trinity. After our merger and even after the move to our current location, the relationship with Bethany has continued. In fact, Bethany members participated in the Sunday service on October 7, 2001, that dedicated our new building on Parmer Lane.
The food pantry at Bethany, called Faith Food Pantry, was started in 2005, when a young man visiting the congregation suggested it. Georgia Booker, the wife of the minister at the time, brought the idea to the Christian Women’s Ministry. From there, Alice Bowser and a core of faithful Bethany members, including Emma Bradley, Virginia Hemphill, and Trudy Bowser, made it happen. Carol Cantu from the Austin Area Food Bank talked to the group about how to go about the project. In the beginning they couldn’t get meat from the Food Bank, so they used donations from the congregation to buy hot dogs.
One of Alice’s most poignant memories of the beginnings of the Pantry is of an envelope placed in the church mailbox soon after the pantry opened, with a note saying, “I am in need and I know others are too. Thank you for starting the pantry.” The envelope also contained a $2 bill.
P.E. and Dotty Casey, Charlie Jamison, Bill Rust, John Kolsti and others helped put up shelves two weeks before the Pantry began stocking, in October of 2005. (Charlie thinks this may have been even earlier, when they were offering a limited food pantry.) Later, United Christian Church began donating food and money and volunteering to help serve. Shepherd of the Hills and Hyde Park Christian also help support the pantry in various ways.
The Pantry began by serving 25 clients twice a month. Flyers were sent to local schools and churches advertising the new service. Alice remembers that their first client, whose son attended Sims Elementary, found a flyer about the Pantry in his backpack.
Although the Pantry currently serves 50 families a month officially, 25 on the second Wednesday of each month from 10:00-12:00, and 25 on the fourth Tuesday from 6:00-8:00, we routinely exceed those numbers; the Pantry serves whoever comes in the door, as long as they are from the correct zip codes.
Mondays, on the weeks clients come, Bethany members go down to the Capital Area Food Bank and buy food at a discount. The food available varies according to many factors, including the ever-increasing demand made on the Bank and the type of donations. On the day of the distribution Bethany members (sometimes with our help) bag up produce, eggs, milk, juice, frozen meat, and whatever other fresh products are available to add to the canned and dry goods they stock. (This is how the plastic bags you donate are used.)
Last year Kenneth Dalley and Carl King did carpentry to connect the existing pantry with another room to add storage.
Virginia Hemphill has even bigger dreams. The Pantry currently serves two zip codes, 78721 and 78723. This eliminates people who live right across the street, some who even belong to the congregation…so she would like to add at least part of the zip code 78702 to include near neighbors. She believes that with more donations, the church could even extend financial aid for electricity, gas, medicine, and other necessities.
Food donations to the Pantry are always welcome, but if you donate money, the Bethany team can make the money go farther than at a grocery store because food from the Food Bank is discounted.
In the fall of each year our congregation collects canned and dry goods for the Thanksgiving distribution at the Pantry. Shepherd of the Hills Christian Church donates 100 frozen turkeys; fresh onions, celery and other produce comes from the Food Bank or sometimes local grocery stores.
There is only one distribution day in November and one in December, so all the clients are served on one day for Thanksgiving and one day for Christmas.
That's an outline of our story so far. There is a lot of history and a lot of love between the two congregations. We hope that you will join us as a volunteer or a supporter and become a part of this rich relationship.
April and Ernest Boardman