More than twenty years ago, members of the CrossTies Ecumenical Church bought a dilapidated drug house and transformed it into the Gospel Cafe. The people who run the cafe on Friday marked 20 years of providing a sense of security for hundreds of needy residents by offering hot meals and acceptance in an impoverished Waco neighborhood.

“Everyday, it is what it is, and we just do what we do,” said Sherry Castello, Gospel Cafe volunteer coordinator and kitchen manager. “We knew the 20th was coming up, but it’s not like we planned on doing a big celebration. We are just here to serve.”

The Gospel Cafe, at 825 S. 10th St., opened April 15, 1996, after ministry members with CrossTies Ecumenical Church bought an abandoned home near downtown and Interstate 35 in the early 1990s. Three years of renovation turned the home into a functional kitchen with dining space, where meals are provided three days a week and donations are accepted from diners.

“When we started, we had to become known and we had to become trusted,” Castello said. “It was so slow when we first started, and some days I would be the only cook so I would just make quiche whenever people came in. We knew this is where we needed to be, though.”

A birthday cake for the cafe’s 20th year augmented the typical menu Friday of Mexican casserole, meat and potatoes casserole, chili cheese hot dogs, salad and a variety of desserts. John Purvis, a Waco resident since 2004, was the first of 159 people through the line Friday. He said the meal has come to represent a sense of security.

“They are the only people that feed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It would be really tough without it here, because you’d just have to fend for yourself,” Purvis said. “Every day it’s just a day-by-day thing. You never know what’s going to happen or how it is going to happen, but I am very grateful for the people here.”

Jane VanMeter, along with Castello, worked at the cafe the day it opened. They served spaghetti. VanMeter joined volunteers in the kitchen Friday afternoon, saying the need for the cafe has become more evident.

“It seems like 20 years has gone by so fast,” VanMeter said. “I think it has had a lot of impact, especially in this neighborhood, because, like a lot of people standing out here, they really trust people in here. The food they get here is nourishing for the body and the soul.”

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