B.O.B.S. Still Cookin’ After 25 Years

By LORETTA FULTON

Day One of a feeding ministry started by First Christian Church didn’t look promising, with bad weather causing a detour.

But 25 years later, B.O.B.S., or Breakfast on Beech Street, is a testament to what faith and perseverance can do. 

“It was nothing short of an ordained miracle,” said Jane Hurley, who was in on the ground floor of B.O.B.S. and continues as a volunteer with other team members from First Christian. 

On Sunday, May 16, churches that support B.O.B.S. financially and with volunteer help will celebrate the 25th anniversary. 

  • First Christian will recognize the anniversary during the children’s sermon. Sue Siltman will give a sack, containing cookies, a scripture passage, and information on B.O.B.S.
  • Volunteers from First Central Presbyterian and First United Methodist will wear B.O.B.S. T-shirts that Sunday. Current and former volunteers will be recognized and pictures from over the years will be shown. After the services, sacks with cookies, scripture verse, fruit, juice, and B.O.B.S. information will be distributed.
  • Highland Church of Christ is highlighting the anniversary in its newsletter
  • The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest will recognize volunteers during both services and in articles in the newsletter and in the pews. 

Joe Biles, left, and Biles and Lee Hampton, prepare sandwiches and food bags at B.O.B.S. during the time of COVID. Photos by Loretta Fulton

For the past 25 years, B.O.B.S. has thrived, providing food and hope to hundreds. The ministry was suggested by a member of First Christian Church, Jack Henderson, who is now deceased. A brother, who lived in Edmond, Oklahoma, attended a church with a similar ministry.

“This is what we need,” Henderson said after visiting his brother’s church.

On Christmas Eve 1995, members of First Christian Church made sandwiches and planned to hand them out to anyone on the streets on Christmas Day. But bad weather had moved everyone inside, so the sandwiches were donated to the Salvation Army. 

Church members weren’t deterred, Hurley recalled. They knew that if the new feeding ministry were to survive, First Christian would need help. So, members took the idea to the Abilene Association of Congregations for support.

“Immediately, three churches signed on,” Hurley said. 

B.O.B.S. gets its name from its location on Beech Street. From 1921 until this year, First Christian Church was located in downtown Abilene, with an entrance on Beech Street. First Christian sold its property to neighboring First Baptist Church and reopened this year in a church on Antilley Road. 

First Baptist, which is turning the former First Christian property into a service center, agreed to allow B.O.B.S to continue to operate in its original location. B.O.B.S. is manned by volunteers from five churches. Each church provides a team one day a week. Most churches have enough teams so that volunteers only have to show up at 5 a.m. one shift per month. However, some volunteers serve on multiple days. 

Giant birthday cookie from 20th anniversary, May 16, 1996

The governing board consists of two representatives from each church. Current chairman is Steve Smith, from First United Methodist Church. Hurley isn’t currently on the board but served for five years in the past. 

It took a freak winter storm in February 2021 to do what not even COVID-19 could do–shut B.O.B.S. down for a few days. COVID has changed what B.O.B.S. is able to provide but the board is discussing when to return to the pre-COVID format. For the past year, a simplified carry-out breakfast, plus a sandwich, cookie, and drink, have been provided instead of the traditional sit-down hot meal like pancakes, omelettes, French toast, and biscuits and gravy. The board will discuss when to return to indoor dining at its June meeting, Hurley said.

B.O.B.S has evolved into more than just a place to eat breakfast five days a week. It’s also a place where relationships and trust are built. One longtime regular, Corky, recently died. He never ate breakfast, Hurley said, he just drank coffee and helped clean up. A woman, Debra, also is a regular who doesn’t eat. She just drinks coffee and visits.

“She needs that socialization,” Hurley said.

Serving at B.O.B.S. has become a family tradition in same instances. A lot of volunteers, like Hurley, serve or have served with family members. Hurley served alongside her mother for several years until her mother died in 1988.

“It was such a special time for us,” Hurley said.

The spiritual aspect of B.O.B.S. has been emphasized from the beginning, with a Bible verse inserted into every bag. If a bag doesn’t have the scripture, volunteers hear about it.

“You know,” the recipient will say, “there wasn’t a scripture in my sack.”

Personalized prayer, too, is a part of what volunteers offer at B.O.B.S. Volunteers let it be known that they will pray with someone if requested. The prayers, the scripture readings, and the love and compassion shown by the volunteers let everyone know that B.O.B.S. is a faith-based service. That blessing first thing in the morning is something that guests at B.O.B.S. carry with them throughout the day–and even longer. Who knows what has grown from that early morning blessing over the past 25 years?

“We plant seeds,” Hurley said.

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

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