Husband-wife pastor team built a network of support across Houston
Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.
Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.
For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.
Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.
When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor
"I saw a woman walking toward me in a hesitant fashion. I called out to her and admired her Juneteenth t-shirt," Thibaudeau said. Glenda asked her for directions, and they struck up a conversation. After finding out that she was in need, Thibaudeau sprang into action and began making phone calls. A few minutes later, two of her co-workers rounded the corner of St. John's church with a box of household goods, courtesy of Bread of Life.
As they loaded up Glenda's car with essentials, Thibaudeau asked questions and listened intently before inviting her to take a walk together.
"As [we] walked, she sobbed and shared that she isn't any more deserving than anyone else and she was so grateful for our kindness. I told her that this is what we do and reminded her that she is not alone. Once you find all of us, you have found the Houston Love!" said Thibaudeau. "I put my arm around her and asked, 'What's your name?' We laughed at realizing that we hadn't exchanged names yet. 'Glenda,' she answered. 'I'm Eva and we got you.'"
This kind of empathy and boundless love is what fuels the work of Pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus. By practicing what they preach—literally—they've created a Houston-based network of nonprofit organizations to cover almost every need imaginable.
The couple, who have been married for 36 years, light up recalling an event that transformed and refined their mission to serve. Shortly after they first took over the congregation at St. John's, they arrived at the church to find a homeless man sleeping on the front stoop. Rather than shooing him away, they invited him inside. That, in sum, is what they've been doing ever since: using what they have to help those in need.
"We have an amazing team of compassionate people who really work together to make good happen, and that's what we've been doing for almost 30 years," said Pastor Rudy. "Eva's story is a perfect example of that."
Bread of Life received an outpouring of support from across the U.S. after Upworthy published their story in June 2020, enabling them to begin offering free weekly COVID-19 testing to the residents of downtown Houston. During a time when access to testing was problematic for many Americans, this service undeniably saved a number of lives. Bread of Life serves a primarily homeless population, people with disabilities and no insurance, with a primary goal of reducing homelessness and food insecurity.
Recently, they've shifted their volunteer efforts to the herculean task of contact tracing and case management, offering yet another invaluable service. They now have an official Mobile COVID Testing Unit, offering completely contact free, mobile testing (note the arm holes in the side)!
Photo courtesy of Rudy Rasmus
Additionally, Bread of Life's partnership with Matthew:25 Ministries and the Houston Food Bank means that people who are sick and quarantined at home can now have food delivered. They've also added fresh, frozen meat to their weekly contactless distribution line downtown.
"Meat days are crazy," said Pastor Rudy. "Because people who are experiencing food insufficiency don't have many opportunities to get meat." He calls it "small scale pandemonium."
According to Feeding America, an additional 17.1 million Americans will experience food insecurity this year due to impacts from COVID-19, and they need our support now more than ever. In response to this growing problem, Feeding America® and Procter & Gamble have joined forces to bring food and household items to communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Across the U.S., P&G is donating products and personal care kits for distribution through the Feeding America network of food banks.