Tyler's needy may soon have a new place to seek comfort.
Bishop David R. Houston, of the Smith Temple Church of God in Christ and his siblings, are joining to help struggling residents find peace and a nourishing meal.
They plan to build a multi-purpose facility in memory of their parents to house the church's Bread in a Starving Land Program, started at the church in 1999 by Houston's wife of 46 years, Lillian.
In the 13 years since its inception, the line of people gathering for assistance ballooned, the bishop said, explaining the church expanded in 2002 to include a second feeding location at Palace and Cochran.
“We were serving meals on the outside of the building,” he said. “The people lining up were subjected to the weather. These are people who have been written off … They should be served with dignity and respect.”
The goal behind the new facility appears two-fold: to serve the underserved and motivate others to step up and give back.
“We are proud of north Tyler and we are doing our part for the future,” Houston said. “Our parents taught us to remember from where we came. We've been given much and we want to give back.”
The church serves about 300 meals twice a week at the Smith Temple, plus another 350 monthly at the second location on Cochran.
Congregation members also make deliveries to the home bound.
“Since we started this, there have been more than 135,000 meals served, supported by our church and friends,” Houston said. “When Lillian Houston, my wife, started the program, she was giving out soup and cornbread. Now it's full-fledged nutritious meals.”
Mrs. Houston, who grew up working in the church, said feeding the hungry is a calling.
“I felt there was a great need,” she said. “When you see people walking up the street, coming from all directions, to get a meal, it's rewarding and exciting to be able to help them. We come rain or shine, no matter how cold or how hot.”
This new center is envisioned to be much more than just feeding the hungry.
It can serve as an information center, reception hall, community gathering site, after-school programs, community learning and life skill training, such as preparing a household budget and filing income taxes.
Ed Thompson Construction and affiliate Reid Construction are overseeing the project; Fitzpatrick Architects is the designers.
Plans are also in the works to create a wall of remembrance that will feature plaques commemorating the people, places and events that helped shaped the community, Houston said.
“Ultimately we want to even offer space for a police substation,” he said. “There's certainly a need in that area. We also want to partner with churches and agencies in the area.”
Aiding in the efforts are Houston's siblings: Lola Houston Colter, Gladys Houston Mosley, Mary A. Houston Stabler, of Carson, Calif.; Dorcas Houston Miller, Tyler; Roy L. Houston, Lomita, Calif.; and Arthur H. Houston, Los Angeles, Calif.
Two other siblings, Walter B. Houston Jr., of Dallas, and Johnnie Houston Spigner, of Tyler, are deceased.
Houston said his father was a preacher who instilled the importance of giving back to the community — the late bishop founded and led the Houston Temple Church of God in Christ for 73 years.
“We've been blessed,” he said. “We want to revitalize north Tyler. The Lord has blessed us to use our resources to do that — we hope what we're doing will impress on others to do the same.”