Still serving: Fort Worth ministry to feed unhoused began under a bridge with fellowship

By Marissa Greene

On September 11, 2023

Debbie Reynolds and her 6-year-old Chihuahua Rowdy both get meals through Under the Bridge ministries, a faith-based organization in Fort Worth, that also provides clothing for those in need. (Marissa Greene | Fort Worth Report)

Debbie Reynolds and Rowdy, her 6-year-old Chihuahua, follow the gentle strains of worship music to the corner of East Presidio and Poplar streets every Sunday evening. She knows she’s reached her destination when she sees the black cardboard “Under the Bridge Ministries” sign amidst a crowd of volunteers handing out water, Gatorade and prepared meals. 

Reynolds faces the assembly line of people that ultimately hands her a plate filled with rice, beans and fajita chicken. Rowdy receives a Ziploc bag of dog food. 

Reynolds, who is experiencing homelessness and occasionally stays at Presbyterian Night Shelter, is joined by several people. Like her, they regularly receive food, clothes and hygiene products through Under the Bridge Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that started in 2020 and became a registered 501(c)3 charity organization in June 2023.

“When these people come out here from the kindness of their heart, it’s such a treat to all of us,” Reynolds said. “It’s such a blessing to us.” 

The organization serves a county where about 6,800 people have been living on the street or in shelters from Jan. 1 to July 31 in 2023, according to Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. On Sept. 10, Under the Bridge provided 250 people with meals.

April Rodriguez (wearing tortoise glasses) hands out food during Under the Bridge Ministries’ Sept. 10 service. Rodriguez was named Miss Texas Latina 2023 on Sept. 4 and said she wants to amplify the ministry’s work through her platform. (Marissa Greene | Fort Worth Report) 

Every Sunday at 6 p.m., Under the Bridge Ministries sets up in the Near East Side of Fort Worth, nestled between shelters like Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County and  Presbyterian Night Shelter. 

Raquel Wiggs-Escobar, president and director of the nonprofit said going in the evening is intended to help people who don’t have a shelter to go to at night. 

“We are God’s hands and feet, we are the ones that have to be out there to do God’s work,” Wiggs-Escobar said.

Raquel Wiggs-Escobar, wearing the white jersey, pivoted away from her former job to lead Under the Bridge Ministries after her son, who founded the nonprofit, stepped away. “I quit my full-time job and took over the ministry because it was just too good to not continue the mission of what he was doing,” she said. (Marissa Greene | Fort Worth Report) 

Raquel only started leading the nonprofit about 18 months ago. Her son, David Wiggs, founded Under the Bridge after his father died by suicide. David named the ministry after a song called “Under the Bridge,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band his dad was a fan of, Wiggs-Escobar said. 

“David always was just busy, he just never took the time to grieve over his father,” Wiggs-Escobar said. “It’s in honor of his dad, and he feels like God took him under the bridge.” 

David started the ministry in June 2020, initially handing out 88 sack lunches to unhoused people under the bridge near Interstate 35 and East Lancaster. He came back the next day with 100 more. 

A few days later, he brought his grill to cook hot dogs and hamburgers under the bridge.

“That’s what my son wanted. He wanted them to feel like they were part of a barbecue, that was his thing,” Wiggs-Escobar said. 

Since Wiggs-Escobar started leading the ministry in February 2022, some changes have been made in the way it operates. The ministry no longer serves people under the bridge due to safety concerns for people and drivers alike. Wiggs-Escobar also said she rents out a commercial kitchen off of East Lancaster, where volunteers with food handler licenses prepare the food ahead of time.

David Quayle, director and secretary of Under the Bridge, joined the ministry in November 2021 as a way to get involved with the city he grew up in. Quayle became a part of the ministry’s leadership team because he wanted to help Under the Bridge become a formalized nonprofit by helping it become a registered 501(c)3 charitable organization. 

David Quayle reaches for packs of fruit and salads to hand out to people on Sept. 10. (Marissa Greene | Fort Worth Report)

With this status, Under the Bridge is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions and has to file its income and expense reports with the Internal Revenue Service. Quayle said that he’s hoping that becoming registered with the IRS will be a way to build trust with potential donors. 

The organization is now in a position to apply for grants, Quayle said. He hopes that the nonprofit can get funding for a van to transport food and clothes — and even own a facility on East Lancaster. 

“Obviously, we’re not going to solve the homeless problem,” Quayle said. “If we’re truly Christians, we should follow what the Bible says, and we should be serving others that are less fortunate.” 

This piece was republished from the Fort Worth Report.

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