It’s always the little things that get us. An old note. A long-lost toy. A single rose. The smallest expressions of love and humanity often carry the greatest weight because they cut through the haze and confusion of emotion and strike a resonant chord inside of us. Sometimes, a note is not just a note; it’s a person’s soul borne out. It’s not just a rose; it’s a courageously fragile reminder that admiration must be nurtured, but when it is, its beauty is enduring. And sometimes — often, in the New Hope Center — peanut butter crackers are not just peanut butter crackers.
Betty Sheppard has been volunteering in the New Hope Center for 25 years, and she still remembers those little things. When we sat down to interview her, two things were clear. First, she wanted no part of any praise leveled for her as an individual; she was insistent that others work just as hard as she does. After that, the resounding message was that volunteering in the emergency food and clothing pantry has shaped her into the person she is now, one intimate encounter at a time. She’s been here since the program was a single-room venture hosted by First Baptist Church of Euless under the unassuming name “Clothes Closet,” back when everything literally wheeled in and out of a single room. From her battle with cancer to the day a grateful client stopped to thank her at the grocery store, her quarter-century of service has been ripe with cherished memories and hard-fought victories. But only one made her tear up during our interview. The peanut butter crackers.
Not long ago, a mother of eight came to New Hope looking for help. Her husband was working two jobs to keep the family afloat, but it still wasn’t enough. Although the afternoon was pressing on, the children had yet to eat anything. No breakfast. No snacks. No lunch. The center, which is being expanded this year, is functional-but-cramped for groups like this one during the busy hours of operation that see an average of 200 or more individuals every week. One child, a daughter, had had enough of waiting. She exploded into tears and fled to the parking lot, chased by her mother and, soon after, an empathetic Betty. Moments later, the family was seated around an impromptu table, munching happily on that most ubiquitous of childhood snack foods: peanut butter crackers. It was this memory, and the thought of the seven-year old boy who tearfully hugged and thanked her for lunch, that broke Betty when we spoke. Not the years of service. Not the cancer. The peanut butter crackers.
“If you had to struggle all the time, and you knew you could never go somewhere and get some kind of help, it would be depressing. You would be more unhappy. You would wonder what’s next. But they can come in here and get food and clothing,” Betty said of the New Hope Center and its constituents. “We just try to treat them like they’re our friends. You don’t want them to feel inferior or bad because they’re here. You want them to feel like they’re being loved; like they’re being taken care of.”
In the course of about a thirty minute interview, Betty returned to two words with measured consistency: “friends” and “family.” The work she and dozens of other volunteers put in on a near-daily basis is almost purely relational. Yes, there are clothes to be folded and cans to be stacked and food packages to be assembled. But none of that matters without the human connection.
“It’s not just giving them food and clothing, it’s getting acquainted with them. Just loving on them. And they do us the same way. We have clients that come in and give us a hug. It’s kind of like one big family,” Betty said. “I’m not any better than they are. I just happen to be lucky that I’m not [in a bad position]. I don’t consider myself any different than the clients. I mean we’re people. We’re human. Things happen. So, as my son-in-law says, you deal with it.”
One of the biggest problems with charity is that it often creates a false dichotomy between the people serving and the people being served. From a distance, the men and women distributing food and clothes seem to be more successful than the ones who come to them for help. But each of us is broken in our own way. You can be financially stable and miserable, wealthy and sick, want for nothing but feeling as though nothing you have is enough. In those instances, you may need someone to hug and thank you as much as a person in poverty needs a new coat. We think those needs are part of a wondrous design that draws us together. The things that make humanity holistically beautiful are the things we must rely on each other to achieve. But often, we have to be humbled before we find them.
Several years had passed between doctor’s appointments when Betty was diagnosed. Despite a history of cancer in her family, she had been confident of her own health. In all her years, doctors had never found a problem. But then, suddenly, they did. Cancer. Stage Three. Betty had developed the most imposing health condition in modern medicine, and it was spreading.
Her daughter, a survivor of thyroid cancer, told her that the coming months could be more than despair and suffering. Her cancer, she said, had brought her closer to God than she had ever been. So Betty embraced the challenge. Armed with a copy of Jesus Calling and an optimistic fighting spirit, she leaned into the battle ahead of her. And she refused to let it change the way she was living and serving.
“I knew, after a while, that God was with me. During the night or in the morning, I would say ‘God I’m going to go in [to the New Hope Center]. Be with me, because I’m going in.’ I just depended on Him to get me through the day,” Betty recalled. “I took the medicine and stuff that they said, but I really never had a sick day. I came back in a week after I had surgery. The second time I had surgery, I came back in less than a week. I called the doctor and I said ’I lift clothes and stuff like that’ and he said ‘well, you’re going to do it anyway…’ so I would just sit and work with the people. I felt like God’s presence was with me… I’d give it all to God. I really did.”
Betty isn’t the first person to find a therapeutic element in volunteering at 6 Stones. But for her, serving was more than a release or a distraction. It was a way of life. If she stopped giving away her time, she would be abandoning an adopted family accrued over decades. She would be turning away from a service that she had felt called to perform from the first moment she set foot in the food pantry as it was being set up. Betty has worked in the New Hope Center for more than three times the lifespan of our official nonprofit organization, running all the way back to the early nineties, and she had no plans of stopping.
So she kept coming in. It wasn’t long before her dedication led to yet another incredible story: a husband and wife asked her to pray with them in the wake of their own cancer diagnosis. The woman, who had been battling breast cancer for a time already, had recently learned that there were tumors in her brain, as well. Betty gladly prayed with them, inviting them into the same friendship she shared with every New Hope client. She then discovered that the couple had been sleeping on the floor at home. They couldn’t afford furniture.
Anyone familiar with the New Hope Center will recognize that we generally don’t accept furniture donations because we lack the space to store them. They are usually passed down the road to one of our partner organizations. But every now and again, things line up too fortuitously to be regarded as accidents. When that happens, we get out of the way and let God work.
About a month after meeting the family, Betty got a call from her son, Scott; the Executive Director here at 6 Stones. He had just been contacted by Stacy Furniture, and rang down from his office directly above New Hope to ask if the floor-bound couple had left an address to which a new bedroom set could be delivered. A full suite was on its way to the office, with nowhere to stay once it arrived. Betty told him that she could do better than give their address: the pair was standing in line for counseling and supplies at that very moment. Tears followed as the family welcomed 6 Stones volunteers and employees from the furniture outlet to their home, which could finally begin to feel like one. According to Betty, stories like that abound in the pantry beneath our main office, but the small things can be just as impressive as the big ones.
“Working with people, you have different things that come up. You talk to people and you don’t realize what you’re saying to them until after you’ve said it, when they cry and give you a hug. That makes it worthwhile, whatever you do,” Betty said. “I can truthfully say I have never got up in the morning and wished I didn’t have to go.There’s always something happening that’s interesting, being around people. The crew, the women that work over here, we all work, but we laugh and play. It’s just like one big, happy family.”
It takes a culture of love to build the kind of environment that our less fortunate neighbors need. While the New Hope Center provides temporary relief in many regards, the most important thing that happens downstairs at 6 Stones is something that can’t be quantified. We give away piles of clothing and tons of food every year, but the most important investment we can make in this community is a relational one. If clients weren’t coming back for counseling, trading hugs and sharing life with volunteers, nothing would really be changing. Long-term healing can only come through long-term commitment. That means listening to and caring about people; walking with them as they struggle and helping them fight for a better life.
Everyone who comes through our doors sits down with a volunteer counselor to discuss their problems and plan out solutions to them. We partner with dozens of local ministries and social services to connect clients to the resources they need, and we help those who are interested in spiritual growth to connect to men and women who can help them increase in faith. Betty testifies that many of our guests who commit to following Christ are subsequently transformed in demeanor and worldview: a kind of lasting change we could never hope to provide by passing out blue jeans and pinto beans. And they aren’t the only ones who experience that shift.
“I think it changed my life,” Betty said of volunteering. “When you start working here, you just see things in a different light with different eyes. It’s something that’s worthwhile, something that helps people. It helps our church. It helps our community. I’m proud to be part of an organization that helps people, and people feel comfortable that they can come here and get help. It just makes me appreciate what I have, but also appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to help other people get what they would like to have.”
We’re glad to have people like Betty at our side. They’re the reason we can make a difference for families who need furniture and prayer and peanut butter crackers. We’d love to have more volunteers just like her, and we hope you’ll consider joining us. There’s no telling what a difference you can make for the Kingdom… or what a difference it will make in you!