‘Sleigh’ becomes part of church’s annual gift to colonia


Highlights

Donated van will be used for food distribution program serving thousands in border area.

St. Martin’s Lutheran Church members stocked van with wrapped gifts for needy children.

A modern-day “sleigh” of sorts — a new Chevrolet van stocked with gifts for needy children— recently delivered its cargo from Austin to a church in El Cenizo, one of the nation’s poorest communities, near Laredo.

As part of an annual tradition, members of St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in downtown Austin had purchased and wrapped gifts bound for Mision Luterana Agua Viva in the border colonia of El Cenizo.

But this year, there was an unexpected — and extra-special — surprise: the van itself, courtesy of an anonymous St. Martin’s donor.

The gleaming white van, delivered with a large bow on its hood, will be used by Mision Luterana Agua Viva to distribute food and other items to thousands of people living in the multitude of impoverished border towns that the church’s ministry serves.

The Rev. Mariana Mendez is Agua Viva’s pastor. Her husband, the Rev. Moises Mendez, is director of the Latin American Lutheran Mission in Laredo, an independent Lutheran mission.

The Mendezes were overcome with emotion upon seeing the van, said Bonnie Newkirk, a member of St. Martin’s who for six years has organized the Austin church’s gift-giving event for children served by Agua Viva.

Newkirk and fellow congregation member Bob Daemmrich, an Austin photographer, caravanned to El Cenizo to deliver the gift-loaded van on a recent Saturday, making the round trip in one day.

“She was awestruck,” Newkirk said of Mariana Mendez’s reaction. “We could have pulled up in an (older-model), banged-up vehicle, and if was functioning she would have been as happy as a peach.”

Mariana Mendez said the food distribution program has grown each year, “bringing food and hope to the most vulnerable communities” at the Texas border. The van will replace an overworked truck, she said, “enabling us to transport goods protected from the elements — this is important as we deliver fresh food, bread and meat from freezers.”

Together with sister churches, Agua Viva this year delivered food, clothing and other goods to 50 Christian ministries, Mendez said.

“Each Tuesday these ministries come to the Latin American Lutheran Mission border station to pick up their allotments and distribute it to 1,720 families,” Mendez said. “An average of 8,600 people benefit from this program. We continue to grow because of the continued support of donors.”

Mendez said the new van will allow Agua Viva “to become more efficient and economize while mobilizing the food distribution quicker to the many colonias we serve in the greater Laredo area.”

Newkirk said El Cenizo is one of the poorest communities in the country, with a median household income of less than $15,000 a year.

Newkirk said the wrapped gifts from the St. Martin’s congregation will be distributed to needy children in the area.

“They didn’t have their future written for them, and now we’re helping them write a better future,” Newkirk said. “I don’t want to think of any kid not having a Christmas. These are God’s children, and they don’t deserve any less than you or I.”

Newkirk said Agua Viva “is not looking for a handout,” but rather seeks to be self-sustaining. The church serves a community with “the poorest of the poor,” she said, but “they’re not looking at themselves as the downtrodden.”

She said Agua Viva, which has an after-school program that provides warm meals for children, receives support from other Lutheran churches in Texas, in addition to St. Martin’s.

Newkirk said the people who are served by the Mendezes’ ministries “are no less hardworking than you or I; they just didn’t happen to get born where we did.”

She said seeing “the love and the joy” in the Mendezes upon delivering the gift-stocked van “was truly a gift in and of itself.”

“They carry such a load every day of helping people who are in need” that to be able to help them out “validates that what they’re doing is the right thing, that the need is real and that others recognize the need,” Newkirk said. “There’s nothing not to love about Mariana and Moises. It’s an inspiration to work with and for them.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Police: 2 teens escape from Giddings detention facility
Police: 2 teens escape from Giddings detention facility

GIDDINGS Police: 2 teens escape from detention facility State and local officials in Lee County are searching for two juveniles who escaped a juvenile detention facility Saturday, and are asking the public to be on the lookout, according to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Brice Ryan Karalis and Bryan Ernando Villanueva, both 16 years old, escaped...
Fire crews extinguish blaze at downtown Austin hi-rise, officials say
Fire crews extinguish blaze at downtown Austin hi-rise, officials say

Emergency crews have put out a fire at the AMLI on 2nd, a hi-rise building downtown, according to the Austin Fire Department. The fire was reported at about 1:50 p.m. at the 400 block of West Third Street. “[F]ire in trash compactor on first floor is under control,” the department said in a post on Twitter. “Working on final extinguishment...
Washington state man, 73, stuck in car for 12 hours after crash
Washington state man, 73, stuck in car for 12 hours after crash

Washington State troopers and firefighters rescued a 73-year-old man who spent about 12 hours stuck in his car after driving off the road near Tiger Mountain, police said Saturday. Eastside Fire officials said the man was in the car overnight, and that when crews arrived, he appeared to be OK. However, he was taken to the hospital for an evaluation...
Austin Answered: Does clothing recycling keep textiles from landfills?
Austin Answered: Does clothing recycling keep textiles from landfills?

When Simple Recycling’s curbside pickup program was introduced in 2016, speculations arose on how it would affect local nonprofits such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In June 2016, Austin approved a 36-month contract with Simple Recycling, an Ohio-based for-profit recycler intended to help Austin achieve its zero-waste goals. The company...
Who is Travis Reinking, the person of interest in the Waffle House shooting?
Who is Travis Reinking, the person of interest in the Waffle House shooting?

Travis Reinking is a 29-year-old man police are seeking in Sunday morning’s shooting at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee. Police issued a murder warrant for Reinking late Sunday morning. Little information has been released by authorities about Reinking, who is from Morton, Illinois.  Police said Reinking sat in his truck in the Waffle...
More Stories