Five years ago, the Georgetown View introduced you to the Campbell family (pictured above with Pastor George Crisp) and their Christmas Eve tradition. Dwayne, his wife Claudia, and their children, have continued to serve the homeless community in Austin, and we caught up with them again for year 13 of their ministry.
How it All Began
Dwayne and Claudia moved to Texas from southern California. Having poured their hearts into a Mexican orphanage ministry, their move to Texas made trips to the border a challenge, but they continued until the tragic death of Claudia’s father in 2009. They decided, for the children’s sake, to help people in their own back yard—the homeless in Austin.
The new ministry was launched from their own car with burritos and a plan to “just go find them.” Those they found were given a fresh burrito or a warm blanket, and many accepted in tears. Claudia says, “On Christmas Eve, the homeless felt forgotten, but small touches of kindness reminded hurting people of their humanity.”
The Campbells began telling their neighbors and church family about these deeply touching moments, and people asked to be a part of it. It wasn’t long before they opened their Christmas ministry to the public.
Interacting with homeless people has always been a great experience for my kids. It’s something they’ll remember forever.Dwayne Campbell
What began with one family has grown to five or six cars in a burrito caravan, and a yearly family tradition for 150 people, many of whom show up Christmas Eve morning to help. The group meets under the 7th street bridge in Austin with coffee, food, clothes, music, gifts, and conversation for as many as 400 people. Volunteers bring friends, family, and neighbors and arrive ready to serve.
“So many people want to help, and we just want to lead them to a place where they can,” Claudia says. “We’re nothing special; everyone can do this. Anyone can grab a cooler on hot days, go downtown and give people water and mosquito repellent, or warmers when it’s really cold. Anything helps.” There are currently more than 1,000 homeless in the city, some of whom continue to struggle after being displaced by floods.
Dwayne added, “We just saw the need, stood in the gap, and people came behind us.”
The Real Hero
Pastor George Crisp, founder of Bridge of Angels ministry, is Dwayne and Claudia’s hero; “He’s there every Saturday, rain or shine.” The humble pastor returns their high regard. “Their hearts are for the people,” he says warmly.
As a young man, George lost a football scholarship to the University of Houston due to drugs and alcohol. “That scholarship was my dream,” George explained. “I got deeper into drugs and alcohol. I lost everything to an endless path of destruction.” One night, his body wasting away, a voice said; “You are dying.” He had never been to church in his life, but he heard it a second time; “You’re dying.” He fell to his knees and sobbed; “God, if you’re real, help me.” He slept for a day and a half and has been sober ever since. “I didn’t find the Lord; He got me,” George said. Now a pastor, he and his wife Paula have been ministering to the homeless community on a weekly basis for 18 years, and serving under the bridge in Austin for 15 years. He understands their stories; he knows.
Crisp began by feeding the homeless in the library parking lot, but was removed when the homeless began hiding food on bookshelves. City Manager Toby Futrell told them they would not be harassed under the 7th Street bridge. “Glory to God, her heart was for these people,” Pastor Crisp said.
We all need help. Somewhere down the line, so the blessing of it all is this: Jesus said ‘I didn’t come to be served, but to serve.’Claudia Campbell
The 7th Street homeless get their best meal all week on Saturdays. Their Thanksgiving meal included 40 turkeys, and the works. George says, “It’s not just about feeding and clothing them for today. I am always looking for those who want to get out of the situation they are in. I help them get jobs. I want to restore them back to health.”
Help the Campbells
Every year, Claudia calls Pastor George to ask about current needs and relays it to those working with their ministry, Feed Them and Free Them. And every year, there are people wanting to help.
“There are all types of hero stories in the story,” Dwayne says. “We’ll give whatever God says, and every year there are so many miracles. Donors bring blankets, socks and sleeping bags; one bank gave 150 teddy bears, and leftovers were donated to Blue Santa.”
Last year, Dwayne’s family came from New Jersey to surprise them and participate in their family tradition and Claudia’s family comes from Mexico to help. It has become a priority for her own family and they begin collecting donations months in advance. Claudia laughs to think, “Our house before Christmas looks like a thrift store!”
Aside from provisions, the Campbells also prepare a special art table where the kids ask God what he wants them to draw, for whom, and then present it to them. That is Hannah’s favorite part.
Once they are done on Christmas Eve and driving back, if they have anything left and see someone on the streets, the kids squeal, “What do we have left? Grab your socks, get the baby blanket!”
And the giving goes on.