It’s a muggy Sunday morning. My photographer and I turn into Café San Luis located along Castroville Road and Highway 90. Stepping in, the café teems with patrons, all comfortably dressed. Servers deliver hot breakfast plates and cold drinks to families.
The space booms with different voices. Turning to the back, we notice tables turned together.
Chente Garcia, an older gentleman wearing a gray suit, takes the middle spot. He blows at a bowl of caldo de pollo caliente, hot chicken soup. To his right are close friends, Martha Torres and Mary Angie, who are waiting on their meals.
Known as Promotoras de la Buena Salud, the Spanish term for “community health workers.” Chente, Martha and Angie fight food scarcity throughout San Antonio and instruct community members in nutritious lifestyles.
“We eat here every Sunday,” Garcia said. “There is nothing better than fresh food that comes from the community.”
As community advocates, these individuals know that communication with the people is best had around comida fresca, fresh food.
“We don’t have a designated meeting spot. Our spaces are among the community to hear the people,” Garcia said.
The goal of Promotoras is to “educate and facilitate.” One way this is achieved is through the Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry. The group organizes the drop-off and on the day specified, fresh groceries are delivered to a spot in the community.
People in the area walk or come in their vehicles to take away not only groceries but new information about healthy choices.
“Canned and processed food, although cheap, is loaded with sodium and sugars. The people need God’s medicine: fresh fruit and produce,” Garcia said.
Promotoras is not listed with the city as an officially recognized organization.
The community group has no system of hierarchy, no chain of command. It is solely comprised of people from the community.
“Outreach on a one-on-one basis. People coming together. And aggressive tactics,” Garcia said. These are elements that the community group touts.
Continuing Mary’s Mission
It is a combination of these strengths that brings us to the late Mary Garcia.
For 20 years, Mary and her husband Chente aided families that could not afford to keep fresh produce in their homes throughout the month.
The two organized one of the 535 non-profit groups that the food bank sponsors. They were instrumental to the development of what is known as the Mobile Food Pantry.
Eric Cooper, CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, vouches for Mary’s strength of will.
“Mary was always a champion of those without a voice,” Cooper said. “The past 15 years that I knew her, it was a great inspiration to me to see someone as passionate about social justice and food justice as she was.”
“In gratitude, she inspired and challenged me to do more. Mary was a peer, a colleague and a friend. She will be missed,” Cooper said.
Mary passed away this December 2016 at the age of 68 years old.
Mary was not only a community advocate and social networker; her understanding of physical wellness nearly matched her understanding of issues. Known as a “natural medicine guru” and “mother to the community,” Mary Garcia understood that sickness began with a nutrient scarce diet, according to her husband.
“Families would reach out to her in the middle of the night with children who had high fevers and no money for a doctor and she would assist them,” Garcia said.
Her generosity and passion for health made her known amongst state and community leaders.
“She knew everybody from the state, all the way down to the districts,” Garcia said.
Martha Torres, president of the S.A. community organization Ladies Of Valor and Empowerment, remembers Mary as “soft-spoken but fierce.”
Torres and Mary worked to form L.O.V.E., a community engagement organization in San Antonio. For three years, they collaborated with Promotoras on several public works projects together.
“Mary guided me and my new organization professionally. But she soon became a mother to me,” Torres stated.
Angie, member of L.O.V.E. and fellow advocate, remembers Mary’s meticulousness.
“I ran a campaign for district clerk in 2014,” Angie said. “I noticed the similarity in our names and upon introducing myself she admitted, ‘I know who you are’ and proceeded to tell me who I was! The connection was made immediately.”
“She struck me as an honest, dependable person who knew issues and the community,” Angie recalled.
Laura Thompson, former State Representative of District 120, discussed her first encounter with Mary.
“It was in early fall of 2016 when I was campaigning for reelection in District 120,” Thompson said. “I came upon one of the East side community meetings and there she was with the members helping them draft these master plans of what they wanted for their community.”
Mary also had a keen view of social justice. Thompson recalls walking through the state-owned GJ Sutton building with Mary.
“Along the walls were notable individuals but most of them were African-American. Mary insisted that we include pictures of other groups to be inclusive of all ethnicities in the district.”
“She understood that government is supposed to represent all constituents,” Thompson said.
Laura Thompson posthumously awarded Mary Garcia with a Certificate of Honor as the then State Representative. She also wrote a “heartfelt” poem and read it at her memorial service.
Continuing the mission
The breakfast rush slows down. Families settle in and others finish their meals.
“Did you ever get your bowl Martha?” Garcia inquired.
“I already devoured it!” Martha retorts. “You missed it!” Angie added.
The three burst into laughter and begin to reminisce.
“Mary was my wife of 48 years and my partner,” Garcia said solemnly.
“We as Promotoras want everyone to be a part of society and to be knowledgeable about current events,” Garcia said.
Promotoras de la Buena Salud organizes several times a year in coordination with the Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry.
Those interested in volunteering with Promotoras or who would like to reach out to them, may contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org or message them on Facebook here.
Editor’s note: Laura Thompson recited this poem at Mary’s funeral.
by Laura Thompson
Her work was her life
Every morning upon awakening
Her work began again
She was a warrior without a spear
Only a heart for the people
She stood up when others would back down
Her smile never left her face
Her presence was
She carried a lot of weight
She never let us down
Now it’s time for her to rest
But her legacy will live on