Sharing Thanks: Past, Present And Future

Mary Campbell

Mary Campbell returns to visit Dallas Bethlehem Center 61 years after her first visit. 

UMW units from across the North Texas Conference team up to fill Thanksgiving baskets that Dallas Bethlehem Center will distribute to its neighbors

Mary Campbell taps into her steel-trap memory bank and recalls a time visiting Dallas with her confirmation class from First Methodist Church Winnsboro. They made the 100-mile trek to visit the big city and two missions affiliated with the church: Golden Cross and Dallas Bethlehem Center.

After teaching home economics for 24 years, Campbell is now a committed church volunteer at First UMC Bonham. And it’s that servant leadership – she’s been an East District officer with United Methodist Women since 2001 – that brought Campbell back to Dallas Bethlehem Center some 61 years after her initial visit.

This year, UMW units from across the North Texas Conference gathered supplies to help fill Thanksgiving baskets for families served by Dallas Bethlehem Center. When it came time to deliver her district’s bumper crop of donations, Campbell said she wanted to come personally rather than meet someone halfway. So this week, Campbell and a friend delivered 87 bags of sugar, 150 cans of jellied cranberry sauce and 166 cans of green beans. What’s more, it gave Campbell a chance to fondly reminisce about her previous encounter with the facility.

“We toured this place before, and I remember seeing a lot of sewing machines, and look what I wound up doing for a living – I taught kids how to sew,” Campbell said. “A lot of kids don’t have a place to study or a place to learn to read, and doing what we can as a church is an opportunity to help others who might need a little assistance.

“Everything we do, if it’s not to God’s glory, then we don’t need to be doing it.”

Founded as a faith-based mission of the North Texas Conference in 1946, Dallas Bethlehem Center incorporated as a nonprofit entity in 1969. It has long had a strong connection to United Methodist Women, as well, and is one of UMW’s national mission institutions.

East donations

Food donations from the East District's UMW drive are dropped off at Dallas Bethlehem Center. The food will fill Thanksgiving baskets for South Dallas families. All four NTC districts participated in the food drive.

The community served by Dallas Bethlehem Center is among the poorest in the city. Ninety-eight percent of people who call South Dallas home are economically disadvantaged, and the two neighborhoods that encompass this area have been classified as food deserts.

Sharon Spratt, the conference’s UMW secretary and a member at St. Paul UMC, said this year’s response has been especially noteworthy. Economic distress abounds because of COVID-19, but Dallas Bethlehem Center hasn’t shuttered nor wavered in the commitment to its neighbors.

“Once we heard Dallas Bethlehem Center had such a great need, the response has been overwhelming,” Spratt said. “Every little bit we can give back to the community means so much for these families.”

Each of the 99 local UMW units in the North Texas Conference took part in the collection efforts. Each was given a particular set of items to collect, whether by donation or by purchase. Some units even negotiated preferred pricing with managers of their local grocery stores to help maximize their effort.

“Part of the mission and vision of UMW is to promote faith, hope and love in action with the women and children of our community,” said Julie Noel, a member of Highland Park UMC who serves as president of the North Texas Conference’s UMW chapter. “I can’t think of a better way that we can make this happen than on a holiday when the primary centerpiece is food.”

UMW women

From left, Vickie Reed and Billie Squires were a part of the East District group that delivered food items to Dallas Bethlehem Center. They were met by Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle, chairwoman of the board of Dallas Bethlehem Center; Sharon Spratt, the conference’s UMW secretary; and Julie Noel, president of the North Texas Conference’s UMW chapter. 

On Monday, Nov. 23, cars will line surround the facility on Leland Avenue to receive a box of food with enough to provide a family of six with an ample Thanksgiving spread. Recipients also will receive a few fresh items as well as a gift voucher to purchase the protein of their choosing. Noel said the target is to serve 300 families this year.

Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle, chairwoman of the board of Dallas Bethlehem Center, recalls driving her son, Christopher, to the DBC campus to volunteer when he was a youth at Lovers Lane UMC. This was before Rev. Lyle entered ordained ministry, but the impact the organization continues to grow with each passing day.

“A piece of me is invested in this organization because of my son, but I am so proud of the work this team continues to do,” Rev. Lyle said. “If we can’t stand with these people who need our help the most and help them however we can, then we have no business calling ourselves Christians.”

For Campbell, that spirit of giving continues after all these years.

“I found a piece of paper in one of my old Bibles that reminded me of my first trip to Dallas Bethlehem Center,” she said. “To come back here and see what all is happening here really warms my heart.”

Published: Wednesday, November 11, 2020