Shared from the 2018-04-01 Faith eEdition

CAM looks to its future

Agency wants to be gateway to downtown renovation

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Alma E. Hernandez / For the San Antonio Express-News

A whiteboard shows Christian Assistance Ministry’s mission statement for volunteers.

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Alma E. Hernandez / For the San Antonio Express-News

Rosa Munoz Castaneda shops for clothes in the women’s pantry at Christian Assistance Ministry. The pantry provides two complete outfits and other items for the homeless.

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Courtesy photo

CAM was started by nine churches 41 years ago on the corner of McCullough Avenue and U.S. 281.

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Alma E. Hernandez / For the San Antonio Express News

Lucy Wilson, a Christian Assistance Ministry volunteer, sorts food orders in the food pantry.

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Alma E. Hernandez / For the San Antonio Express-News

Timothy Wright, a staffer at Christian Assistance Ministry, assists Jerry Castoreno with his bills.

Dawn White-Fosdick, executive director of Christian Assistance Ministry, doesn’t have to reach far for her favorite Bible verse this Easter.

It’s from Leviticus and serves as a motto for a ministry that operates as the city’s emergency room for social services, she says.

“When you harvest the crops on your land,” the verse begins, “do not cut all the way to the corners of your field. Don’t pick up the grain that falls on the ground. Leave it for the poor.”

CAM was started by nine churches 41 years ago on the corner of McCullough Avenue and U.S. 281, where it has been sharing what’s left of the harvest since then.

Its headquarters, a cluster of old buildings donated by Grace Lutheran Church, near a highway exit was not a busy spot until recently. Now cars drive past on their way to and from the Tobin Center and The Pearl. It’s blocks from CPS Energy’s new headquarters and GrayStreet Partners’ redevelopment of the San Antonio Light building.

That can be a precarious place for a ministry that serves 50,000 people a year; among them the homeless, poor, working poor, women escaping domestic violence with their children; veterans, people with mental health issues, and more.

Most arrive on foot, as did John David Simpson, 55, a veteran who came out of jail to Haven for Hope and had an expired state ID. He walked away with a check to pay the state for a new one. You can’t apply for a job without one.

Diana Trujillo, CAM’s social services director, says people arrive at CAM for help with a utility bill, getting a birth certificate, an ID, aid to get a prescription or simply food and clothes.

“A lot of them are homeless but don’t want to be called homeless, so we’re careful with that,” she said.

Eight years ago, CAM did its work “in the middle of nowhere,” no transformational downtown development in sight, said White-Fosdick.

“Now we’re in the middle of everywhere,” she said. “I didn’t want to wake up someday and hear people whisper, ‘What are we going to do about CAM?’ ”

So, she with others created the McCullough Avenue Consortium, a group of downtown churches, businesses, developers and CAM that have been meeting monthly for more than two years.

They’ve developed a set of guiding principles for improvements from signage and lighting to large-scale renovations.

CAM’s proposed $2.3 million improvement plan will happen in phases, as it raises funds or receives foundation grants. Only one project for pedestrian lighting, new sidewalks and public seating could entail public funding.

It will begin with a $65,000 project to replace its chain-link fence, to be finished by the end of April.

The agency next will install a new $30,000 playground area for the 14,000 children it serves annually; followed by a $50,000 new entrance for its client building with an accessible path and shaded waiting area.

CAM also will redo some signage.

Its biggest projects will come later, including one that will renovate its largest building, an unused, unheated, un-airconditioned warehouse that could be used for storage and large-scale projects that it now wastes volunteer time and space to accommodate in various spaces.

White-Fosdick says the improvements will benefit CAM’s clients, who will continue to be served at its headquarters; and its volunteers, as well as other members of the consortium who want to attract millennials interested in serving and giving where they live.

“We want to be a light, not a blight,” she said. “We want our new neighbors to view us as one of the reasons they want to live in this historic, urban area.”

Christians will go to church today “to learn about Christ’s life,” White-Fosdick said.

“What I see and share, as part of our mission, was his vision while he was here, to show us who his grace was for, and his love for the unlovable, or what we perceive as the unlovable.”

“For many people the Bible can be punitive and judgmental,” she said. “It really isn’t. It’s the opposite of that.” eayala@express-news.net | Twitter: @ElaineAyala

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