BACH for the holidays …. and beyond

Volunteer Wanda Brown helps get ready for the Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope on Chirstmas Eve

I have been out of the office, on vacation, since Dec. 22, and when I got back to work today and started wading through the thousands of emails in my inbox, I found one from Hank Henley, asking if we could include some information in Dallas Voice about BACH, the weekly Breakfast At Cathedral of Hope program in which church volunteers prepare and serve breakfast to the homeless.

So I am including Hank’s write-up about BACH’s Christmas Eve event here on Instant Tea, just as he sent it to me:

Use the words “Bach” and “cathedral” in a sentence this time of year, and most people will picture the “Christmas Cantata” or “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” But at a certain church in Dallas, BACH stands for “Breakfast at the Cathedral of Hope,” a program that just celebrated its four-year anniversary in November. On Christmas Eve morning, while most of Dallas was nestled all snug in their beds, a small army of volunteers was in the kitchen at the Cathedral of Hope whipping up a hot and hearty breakfast for the homeless and needy that would be coming through their doors by 7:30 a.m. Under the direction of Rev. William Baldridge, Associate Pastor for Community Outreach, this weekly breakfast has grown from serving just 11 guests at the first meal to an average of 200 guests each Saturday morning.

And guests they are: receiving a hot meal served on china plates and with silverware and glasses. The guests may also receive a haircut after they eat, if they so chose.

This week, in addition to the usual food and drink, each guest received a bag with a blanket, hat, gloves, toiletries, water and food coupons. The gift bags were the result of the generous work of Jan Okerlund and Leslie Frye.

Leslie Frye, one of the volunteer coordinators, when asked how the volunteers feel about the work they do, said, “The real blessing is in the cooking for and serving those less fortunate, not only during this Season, but all year long.”

This Saturday’s volunteers included members of the church community of the Cathedral of Hope, members of the Turtle Creek Chorale and a group of 14 students from “I-CERV,” the “Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering.” They are here once a month, all year long. Kenneth Campbell, the Interfaith Services Director Volunteer Coordinator of the Memnosyne Foundation, brought these energetic and focused youth.

The Memnosyne Foundation is a wonderful organization whose mission is “to help a diverse people of the world consciously encourage an evolution of themselves and for future generations by providing the means to encourage positive, peaceful global collaboration.” The diverse crowd of leaders, volunteers and guests were certainly doing that on this morning.

And one guest, who guest shared his story quietly and privately with tears streaming down his face, personifies the spirit of sharing and giving. This time last year, he was on the street, living under a bridge and depending on the generosity of others to survive. He told me he could always count on a hot meal and being treated with respect when he came to BACH. This year, he is able to draw social security and is donating $25 a month to BACH. “They always fed me and helped me get through. Now I want to give back whatever I can. God blessed me and it’s what I want to do.”

Across the room, his hands deep in a bucket of soapy water, volunteer Jamie Rawson, spent the morning scraping plates and glasses, getting them ready for the dishwashers.

“There a few things a person can do which so clearly put Christmastime in perspective as doing something to help others. It is has been said so often as to become a cliché — but it is no less true for being a cliché. It is heart-warming to see so many people gathered to help provide for those in need. It is especially affirming to see so many young people from such a diversity of backgrounds. This has been the most fitting and rewarding way to truly start my Christmas.”

When the guests were finished with breakfast, finished visiting with friends and volunteers, finished with their haircut, and picked up their bag of supplies for warmth and comfort, they left the cathedral and headed back into the rain and the street.

As they left, Richard Boule greeted each of them and wished them a Merry Christmas.

“As I watched those people leaving the Cathedral after breakfast this morning, I could not help wondering where they were going and what each one of them had to look forward to this Christmas time. But I had the feeling that they were grateful for the humanity they were shown, so many left with a smile. May they be blessed.”

If you would like to help with BACH, please call Rev. Baldridge at the Cathedral of Hope at 214-351-1901.

You can see more photos from the Christmas Eve Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope after the jump.

—  admin

Hess marks 25 years with RCD

Co-workers call him the steadying force, the quiet authority and the keeper of institutional knowledge

A QUARTER CENTURY  |  Craig Hess was Resource Center Dallas’ second employee when he started 25 years ago. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

A QUARTER CENTURY | Craig Hess was Resource Center Dallas’ second employee when he started 25 years ago. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Craig Hess marked his 25th anniversary as an employee of Resource Center Dallas appropriately enough on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.

To put that amount of time in perspective, World AIDS Day dates back only 23 years.

Currently, Hess is the insurance assistance coordinator at RCD. When he was hired in 1986, he started as the volunteer coordinator.

Hess was the second person hired by the organization — after community educator Mike Richards and before the agency’s first executive director, John Thomas. Hess said three people were hired that day.
“When I took the job, it was temporary — six months and they’ll find a cure,” he said. “This has been the longest temporary job I ever had.”

RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell called Hess “a living history book” and “the keeper of institutional knowledge” for the agency. He said that Hess is a steadying force at the center and is treated with a great deal of respect.

“He’s the quiet authority,” McDonnell said.

Hess describes himself a little differently.

“I’m the voice of reason among the insanity,” he said.

Hess said he’s amazed at what Resource Center Dallas has become.

In the beginning, he said, “This was as grassroots as it could be. And now we’re a United Way agency. Government funding? We never thought of that back then.”

He recounted how the insurance program he heads got started in the late 1990s. Dallas County helped Resource Center Dallas make COBRA payments for its clients. At the time, Parkland Hospital estimated that the $60,000 in insurance payments it funded saved the county more than $6 million.

“Now it’s more like $100 million saved,” Hess said.

Hess said his background is in accounting.

“I like doing it because it’s very exacting,” he said. “There’s no leeway. It’s very organized. This is extreme accounting.”

He called his job the one no one else wants to do.

RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox was among the agency’s staff who heaped praise on Hess.

“When I first met Craig, he wore a different pair of high tops everyday and drove a Cadillac convertible,” Cox said. “He’s always had his own style and there’s something to be said for that.”

But her admiration for him was apparent.

“He’s given 25 years of service to this community,” she said. “He’s dedicated his life to that service.”

Cox said that she gets letters from clients about how much Hess has helped them.

“With this job comes many complaints,” she said. “To have a client take the time to send a letter of gratitude catches my attention.”

But she said to get letters about him repeatedly is a testament to his value to the organization and its clients.

Client Services Manager Jennifer Hurn said it struck her when Hess remarked that the names on the buildings are real people to him.

“Most of us here now can’t say that,” she said.

Hess agreed and was more comfortable talking about the many other people who helped build the center than about his own accomplishments.

He mentioned Bill Hunt who helped create the Food Pantry and the hot meals program that he dubbed “Chez Louise.”

“Bill wanted lunch served on china because it was about dignity,” he said. “Social, not institutional.”

And Hess has taken that lesson to heart. He explained why he’s devoted his life to RCD’s clients.

“I could be any one of the clients,” he said. “If this happened to me, how would I want people to treat me?”

So how long can clients count on him to continue doing his temporary job?

“I’m there till it’s over,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens