Wagon tale: Organization on mission to help community

Volunteers and residents help to distribute bags of dry goods to waiting cars Wednesday at Red Wagon Ministry.(Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

It’s a quiet Saturday at the Red Wagon Ministry on the corner of East 12th and Taylor Street. A small group of men sit apart under a carport at a multitude of tables talking and smoking cigarettes while a small speaker plays music.

Near a large wooden cross erected at one end of the area, Brian Crisp checks that the microphone is hooked up to the speaker and working as he sets up for the 3 p.m. worship service.

Brian and his wife Camie are the cofounders of Red Wagon Ministry, a local organization that works to help the homeless and those in need in Brownsville. The organization began in 2017 in response to a need the couple saw during their volunteer work with Love Brownsville.

The couple began their work by collecting surplus coats and distributing leftover meals from Good Neighbor Settlement House to the homeless individuals who live in the streets surrounding the La Plaza Bus Terminal.

“From there we started a clothing pantry at our house in our garage. It grew from a clothing pantry to a food pantry to preparing meals every Saturday and Sunday. From 15 to 20 to 100 and then to 150 meals on the weekends,” said Brian.

However, the couple felt their call to service change dramatically as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Brownsville in March. When organizations serving the homeless and in need were forced to close or drastically change their procedures and what they could offer, the couple felt that there were people falling through the cracks.

“We decided to go ahead and start doing open air facilities. We brought food to the homeless and the senior citizens. We brought food to any facility that asked for food and that was lacking because of the pandemic. We also got involved in passing out food from the USDA’s Farmers to Families program,” said Brian.

Eventually their work outgrew their home, and so Red Wagon Ministry leased the lot on East 12th Street in September to construct an open air facility to house, provide weekend meals, and resources to those in need.

The site of a former Mexican restaurant, the facility has a main building which houses the kitchen and food pantry, an open air dining area and a covered living area which houses the 24 tents where the facility’s 28 residents live. They’ve also added a bathroom and shower and socialization spot where residents can make coffee and talk.

“As long as they maintain social distancing and keeping everything clean and neat and respecting one another they have an opportunity to stay here,” Brian said.

While so far their new enterprise has worked one thing still presents a major hurdle to their success, and that’s funding.

“We saw the need and neither one of us, my wife and I, are going to back down from the need. If it meant spending our money to do it, we did,” said Brian.

While monetary donations to keep the facility and services going are a main part of the need, cold weather items like blankets, sleeping bags, coats and sweatshirts are essential to help residents during the upcoming inclement weather.

The facility also needs any unused or gently used twin or single mattresses, three man tents and 10 foot by 20 foot carports. In addition food items from ground beef to bottled water are to provide meals and stock the food pantry.

“Our main goal is really just to share the love of Jesus with them and show that there are people here who care,” said Camie.

If you want to volunteer, donate funds or items, or know an individual in need of housing you are encouraged to call (956)371-5882 or (956) 371-9293 and ask for Brian or Camie.

dcathey@brownsvilleherald.com