Pastor Roy Guerrero preaches under the oak tree at St. Joseph’s Food Pantry, which also serves as Jesus the Divine Teacher Ministries Church in Granite Shoals. Pastor Mary Lou Guerrero is the other half of the couple that works full time helping struggling families in Granite Shoals and other areas. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
The sanctuary at Jesus the Divine Teacher Ministries Church in Granite Shoals isn’t designed for people to sit and listen. It is designed to serve: bags of groceries, loaves of bread, jugs of milk, fresh fruits, vegetables, and even home-cooked meals.
The non-denominational church is home to Joseph’s Food Pantry, the central ministry of its pastor duo, Mary Lou and Roy Guerrero.
“I think hunger is unacceptable,” Pastor Roy said. “We have to do something about it. A lot of people in the area who are very blessed don’t realize how much hunger there is in homes.”
Joseph’s Food Pantry serves food by the grocery cart at 2 p.m. on the first, second, and third Tuesdays of the month from its building on 706 N. Phillips Ranch Road. On the second Tuesday, the Capital Area Food Bank provides fresh fruits and vegetables. On the fourth Tuesday, the Guerreros and their army of volunteers minister to other food banks, churches, and communities in need, often outside of the Highland Lakes. At 6 p.m. on Wednesday evenings, a hot meal is served followed by Bible study for those who want spiritual nourishment.
Church services are also offered at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays.
“We don’t do church on Sunday,” Pastor Mary Lou said. “We have our services on Tuesday and then open the food pantry. We serve both spiritually and physically.”
Weather permitting, church service is outside under an enormous oak tree that shades the building and granite gravel yard. People sit on rusty metal folding chairs facing the tree, perpendicular to the pink, cinder block building.
Inside are refrigerators, a kitchen, and tables and boxes overflowing with vegetable trays, salad, bread, donuts, eggs, and frozen pizzas. Outside, tables and boxes filled with toys, clothes, shoes, and household goods line the front of the building and take up the extra yard space behind the church-goers.
Dressed in jean shorts and a Joseph’s Food Pantry T-shirt, Pastor Roy tells stories and preaches, playing music from his mobile phone. Songs are amplified through a portable speaker. He uses a small podium adorned with a white cardboard cross and the words “He is Risen” on which to place his phone or lean occasionally.
Pastor Mary Lou sits in a folding chair beside him, facing the congregation while her husband slowly walks and talks in front of the line of chairs. He stops to read scripture and ask for questions and feedback from the congregants. He knows them all by name. For those speaking little English, he often repeats his words in Spanish.
On one particularly hot Tuesday in August, about 30 people gathered, some with small children or babies in their laps. To each service, people bring their joys, their troubles, their grief to the Guerreros, who feed the needy both spiritually and physically.
“They are laser focused on helping people,” said Jackie English when asked about the couple.
English is the pastor at Christ Redeemer Fellowship in Granite Shoals and president of the Highland Lakes Crisis Network. He has known the Guerreros for more than 20 years.
“They have always just wanted to help people, to show that you can’t just say to people in need, ‘Jesus loves you’ and then walk away from them,” he said. “I am in awe of what they have accomplished.”
The Guerreros moved to Granite Shoals from Corpus Christi in 1995. Roy had just retired after 35 years in the meat department at H-E-B. They began a clothing ministry with a small resale shop, giving away what they didn’t sell.
They collaborated with First Baptist Church of Granite Shoals in opening Joseph’s Food Pantry in 2008 at the church. It quickly outgrew the space.
“We ended up here in our own facility with our own rules, independent from anyone else,” Pastor Roy said. “No one was under us or over us, only God.”
Those rules include serving any and all who say they need help.
“You don’t have to come to service,” Pastor Roy continued. “You can show up at 2 p.m. after the service, and we will give you what you need.”
Financial and other help for the nascent food bank came from area churches and individuals. Pastor Roy was able to build a relationship with the Capital Area Food Bank, where Joseph’s Food Pantry buys most of its food for 10 cents on the dollar.
The foundation of the church and pantry are based on scripture from Isaiah 61:1-11, which reads in part: “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”
The prophet goes on, telling God’s people to “comfort all who mourn” and “provide for those who grieve.”
“Basically, that is what we are doing right now: providing for the poor,” Pastor Roy said. “We minister to the people who are hurting or mourning.”
That includes Joseph’s Feast of Thanksgiving, a holiday dinner for around 200 people from which everyone leaves with a free turkey. The church also hold a children’s event, Jesus’ Toys for Kids, at Christmas. That event is paid for with money raised during the church’s annual yard sale and fish fry, held this year on Saturday, Sept. 10. The yard sale is from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; the fish fry from 11 am.-1 p.m. Plates are $10 each; donations are welcome.
As this reporter watched volunteers push top-heavy grocery carts over the gravel to recipients’ vehicles, Pastor Roy took a rest under the tree to answer a question: What is the pantry’s biggest need?
“Our number one need is volunteers,” he said. “A lot of work goes into organizing this. We always need volunteers. And money. Money helps us a lot more than food donations because we can buy so much more through the food bank than you can at the grocery store.”
Donations are also needed to help pay the pantry’s electric and water bill and buy gas for the vehicles that pick up food and help with distribution. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, pantries have to buy special holiday foods like stuffing, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce from local grocers. The Capital Area Food Bank doesn’t have those items available for sale.
For the Thanksgiving meal, which is held the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day, Pastor Roy said about 300 volunteers are needed to work in shifts.
“We have two activities, one inside and one outside,” he said. “We need volunteers to handle the baskets and volunteers to serve the meals inside.”
Joseph’s Food Pantry also has a special food program for kids, providing snacks to take to school or eat when they come home and their parents are still working. That’s a special ministry of Pastor Mary Lou’s, who packed summer snack bags then quickly changed them to back-to-school food bags the week classes resumed after the break.
Together, the couple is making an impact on families that ripples across many aspects of life in the Highland Lakes, said Kevin Naumann, executive director of the Highland Lakes Crisis Network.
“The Guerreros are some of the brightest shining lights in our community, particularly in Granite Shoals,” he told The Picayune Magazine. “It’s pretty neat to see what they do. It’s never about them. It’s about serving others, something greater than themselves. That’s testimony in and of itself.”
Pastor Roy summed it up nicely in his third-Tuesday sermon last month.
“Lot of people think God doesn’t do miracles anymore,” he said, track shoes crunching on the granite gravel. He spread his arms wide, encompassing the people in their chairs, the kids playing tag around the yard, and the clothing, home goods, and food set up and ready for distribution. “God does miracles every day. Look right here.”
To volunteer, call 830-220-2344. Donations can be mailed to: Jesus the Divine Teacher Ministries, P.O. Box 804, Marble Falls, TX 78654. Item donations can be dropped off at 706 N. Phillips Ranch Road in Granite Shoals, but call before dropping off anything at the pantry. For more information, visit josephsfoodpantry.com.