East Austin icon recognized in fight against hunger


As the purple, green and beige bus rolled into the Booker T. Washington Terraces in East Austin around lunchtime Friday, the driver blared out through a speaker: “We got food! We got food! Don’t be afraid, this is our new bus!”

A few minutes later, a group of three curious high school girls walked onto the parking lot. “Is that the food lady?” they asked each other.

It indeed was the “food lady,” Lola Stephens-Bell, known affectionately to the scores of people she hands out free food to as “Miss Lola.” She drove a new bus she had just been given by Tyson Foods as recognition for her efforts fighting hunger in the Austin area.

Stephens-Bell, who closes her Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food restaurant four times a week to feed the hungry, was the first person in the country to be recognized in Tyson’s new five-year initiative to invest $50 million over the next five years to people committed to fighting hunger.

“One hot meal really can make a difference,” said Charlie Solomon, a Tyson executive who spoke Friday at an event in her honor at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin. “With one hot meal at a time, Lola makes a difference in every life she touches.”

As part of the recognition, Stephens-Bell was given a new bus to make her deliveries and a yearly supply of chicken products that will be delivered to her restaurant twice a week so she can continue feeding the hungry.

“Glory be to God!” she yelled, after climbing aboard the bus for the first time, following the ceremony.

Stephens-Bell is a beloved figure in East Austin who has provided free food to the less fortunate and hungry for 12 years, even while her restaurant has struggled. Once homeless herself, she knows how difficult going hungry can be and still fasts to remind herself of the feeling, she said.

Council Member Ora Houston, who spoke at the event, called her an East Austin icon and an “unsung heroine of the community.”

“What the world needs now is love, love, love,” Houston told the crowd. “That’s what Miss Lola brought here after she moved here from New Orleans. … Here’s your heroine. She knew what needed to be done and took action.”

Feeding the hungry, Stephens-Bell believes, is her ministry. When she visits low-income projects to hand out free food, she blares out her presence from a speaker in her van, and often quotes scripture and tells people how much God loves them.

Arnesha Johnson, a 17-year-old resident of Booker T. Washington Terraces who stopped by the van Friday, said Stephens-Bell’s visits help build community in the area.

That seems to make Stephens-Bell happy, and she hopes to expand her reach to such cities as Bastrop, Manor and Elgin with her new van. Even after her free chicken supply from Tyson runs out near the end of the year, she doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“I’ll keep doing the work of God every day of my life,” she said. “Every child shall be fed.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Lightning strikes cause two separate house fires, three displaced
Lightning strikes cause two separate house fires, three displaced

Firefighters battled two house fires north of Austin on Sunday afternoon, both caused by lightning strikes within minutes of each other. One caused three people to be displaced, officials said. The first fire was reported in the 15000 block of Bended Knee, near Avery Ranch around 3:15 p.m. Sunday, the Austin Fire Department said. Lightning had struck...
Austin adding to streak of 100-degree temperature days this week
Austin adding to streak of 100-degree temperature days this week

Austin will continue a streak of triple-digit temperatures this week, with highs topping 100 degrees every day until Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, and not a sign of rain in the forecast. The weather service warned Sunday of elevated temperatures through the week, particularly in the afternoons. South Central Texas and areas east...
Hodges quintuplets head home to Temple after stay in Austin hospital
Hodges quintuplets head home to Temple after stay in Austin hospital

The Hodges family has grown by five. On July 23, after four months of one or more of the quintuplets being kept in the neonatal intensive care unit at Seton Medical Center Austin, Liz and Daniel Hodges prepared to take their new brood home to Temple on Sunday. “Looking at these babies, you know that miracles exist,” Liz Hodges said. &ldquo...
San Antonio immigrant deaths: What Gov. Abbott, Dan Patrick are saying
San Antonio immigrant deaths: What Gov. Abbott, Dan Patrick are saying

State and local officials were reacting Sunday to reports of the deaths of nine immigrants in a truck found outside of San Antonio. Gov. Greg Abbott: “The loss of these lives is a heartbreaking tragedy. Human trafficking is an epidemic that Texas is working to eradicate. To that end, Texas will continue to provide protection for the victims who...
San Antonio immigrant smuggling deaths come amid shift toward Texas
San Antonio immigrant smuggling deaths come amid shift toward Texas

At least nine immigrants died and 30 were hospitalized after authorities in San Antonio discovered an overheated tractor-trailer in a Walmart parking lot early Sunday morning in what the police chief called a “horrific” human trafficking crime. Police found the truck after a store employee making the rounds late Saturday night was approached...
More Stories