Sandra Michna followed with great interest the tragic, almost surreal happenings of Feb. 28, the day four federal agents lost their lives trying to serve warrants at the Mount Carmel compound occupied by Branch Davidians.
Michna, part of the Michna’s Bar-B-Que family, overheard a customer idly remark about feeding the agents standing guard at the site of the deadliest raid in the history of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Surely they had plenty to eat, but she wondered.
“I called Waco police, thinking I must sound stupid, and asked about providing some food,” Michna said.
She was told to take donations to the police station. Later that day, employees drove another truck full of barbecue, beans and potato salad to Texas State Technical College, which the bureau had turned into a makeshift headquarters.
Since then, Michna’s has served 1,050 plate lunches to law enforcement officers and hungry journalists.
And it hasn’t accepted a penny. The generosity Michna’s has shown is commendable — and typical — said McLennan County Commissioner Ray Meadows, who is serving as a liaison for groups wanting to show another side of Central Texas to the 450 law enforcement officers waiting for cult leader Vernon Howell and his followers to make their next move.
The McLennan County Extension Service fed the agents beans and cornbread; local home economics classes last week baked 325 dozen cookies; and Church’s Chicken on Wednesday packed up 450 meals for delivery.
Food Lion, Sam’s, Plantation Foods, the Chicken Shack, the Elite Café and many others also have made food available at no cost, Meadows said.
Mary Duty, whose husband, Roland, is president of the Waco Restaurant Association, estimated that members have donated $60,000 in products.
Individuals, too, have shown up with homemade goodies.
One woman who asked that her name not be used made a corn, rice and bean salad and hand-delivered it “to a very attractive young lady, an ATF agent, wearing the biggest gun I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Pam Brewer, a McLennan Community College administrator, has seven times visited the clubhouse at Tradinghouse Lake that serves as a repository for food from groups such as the sanctuary choir of Columbus Avenue Baptist church.
“I don’t think people realize the magnitude of the number of people out there,” said Brewer.
Brewer said most agents prefer raisins, nuts and other high-energy foods to calorie-laden snacks.
“They’re trying to stay trim,” she said.
What has the community’s response meant to the ATF, which has been criticized by some for its handling of the raid?
“Words can’t describe it,” said Jerry Singer, a special agent from Chicago. “It’s not just the food, but the way it’s offered.” I’ve talked to many who are impressed by the friendliness, the caring.
“We’ve received cards from students of all ages, and we put them up in our offices,” he added.
“Some look upon us as just agents. But we’re human beings with families at home.”