Give us this day, our daily bread: For 30 years, the Sutherland family has been used to fulfill a daily prayer in the lives of Southwesterners

Daily Bread

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Southwestern News.

When Scott Patel*, a Master of Divinity student from Southeast Asia, was told about the food ministry on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, it was an answer to prayer.

Patel came to the Fort Worth campus on Aug. 8, 2022, as a new student. Following the three days of new student orientation, he remembers he did not have food for a week. Fellow new students were too busy to take him to the grocery store and he was “relying” on bread he had received. He says his family in Southeast Asia “was getting worried” about him because he did not have food. However, he continued to pray for God’s provision.

A friend eventually told Patel about Daily Bread Ministry, a food ministry that is open every Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. in the Walsh Counseling Center building on campus.

“That ministry has been a great blessing,” says Patel who has visited the ministry every Tuesday since that initial visit.

Patel is one of hundreds of Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College students and their families who benefit from the Daily Bread Ministry weekly.

The Daily Bread Ministry began in April 1995 when Coby (’07) and Vivian Sutherland, who were then members at First Baptist Church of Haslet, Texas, received a call from a local Kroger grocery store explaining they had an “excess” of baked items that “were available for pick up if they wanted to get on their schedule,” their daughter, Tammy Sutherland Eck (’99), remembers.

The Daily Bread Ministry began on the Southwestern Seminary campus when Coby and Vivian Sutherland were contacted by a local Kroger grocery store about a surplus of food supplies. What began as one table in 1995 located in the Naylor Student Center has since expanded to an entire space in the Walsh Counseling Center building that provides food for hundreds of Southwestern families weekly.

At the time Coby Sutherland was in his thirtieth year working on the assembly line for General Motors. The Sutherlands served at their church and “they looked around in their neighborhood, and then their church community and tried to find out if there was a place that could utilize it since it was offered to the church,” Eck says. However, “the Methodists informed them that they were taking care of everybody in the community and there was no need,” she notes.

Eck recalls her parents then thought of the students who served on their church staff and “how much of a struggle some of those students had with not being able to work full time and go to school” as they were studying at Southwestern. She adds her parents also thought about “all the international students.”

The Sutherlands contacted the director of Student Life at Southwestern at the time to ask if they could leave the food items for the students somewhere on campus. Eck recounts the director told her parents, “Well, I don’t think our students really need food” but he was willing to allow them to “try” to distribute it among the students. Initially, the Sutherlands used a table outside of the coffee shop in the Student Center to set out all the food supplies, which was really “a basket of groceries worth of stuff” such as “stuff from the bakery: cupcakes and cinnamon rolls and things like that.”

Eck says students “didn’t really know about it in advance, but they just kind of came by and took it all and it was all gone.”

The next week the Sutherlands returned with more food. Eck remembers, “By the third week, there were people waiting when they got there to help them unload their truck.” That is when the family realized, “Well, we better get some more food,” Eck recalls.

The search for more food resulted in finding supplies at Mrs. Baird’s, a Texas-based bakery, which led Coby on a search for peanut butter because “if you have bread, you need to make a sandwich,” Eck remembers her dad saying.

What began as one table in the Student Center in 1995 that initially helped 30-40 students, has since expanded to an entire weekly ministry that occupies space in the back of the Walsh Counseling Center building on campus.

Every Tuesday morning laughter and joy emanate from the small space along the Walsh building’s south entrance where students and their families line up to file inside to select food supplies offered through the Daily Bread Ministry. The laughter and joy begin with the Sutherland family themselves.

“You’re my best friend!” Eck calls out to every small child holding a parent’s hand or resting on a hip. The heartfelt greeting that is extended to children and parents alike elicits shy smiles from kids and hugs from students – each of whom the Sutherlands know by name. It is not unusual for Eck to hold a child on her hip while she simultaneously greets students, ensures food supplies continue to remain stocked along the shelves and bins that line all four walls of the space, and catches up on what is taking place in the students’ lives.

Clearly, the ministry is not just about the food.

The food that fills the black bins and is neatly displayed and arranged on shelving units is marked to let students know the quantity they are allowed to put in one of the shopping bags they receive when they step into the facility. Canned goods, boxes of cereal, pasta, juice, and bags of rice are some of the many food items found on the shelves. Fruit and vegetables fill the bins and cartons of eggs are on the table that sits in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that makes the south wall of the ministry’s space.

The Sutherlands, alongside their daughter Tammy Sutherland Eck and a host of volunteers, have sought to minister to Southwestern Seminary students beyond food supplies. They know the students, their families, and their stories by name as they seek to minister to the campus community.

As students select their food items, there is a camaraderie as they greet the Sutherlands and one another. Students will often look out for friends who are in class and cannot make a weekly visit to the ministry for food supplies. A sense of gratitude is apparent to any bystander. There are no arguments, disputes, or fighting over food, but a true display of thankfulness – by the students, the Sutherlands, Eck, and the team of weekly volunteers.

When the ministry first began in the Naylor Student Center, the need and the amount of food supply quickly outgrew the space. After the first year, the Sutherlands were allowed to distribute the foodstuffs from tables set up on the basketball court of the Recreation and Aerobics Center (RAC). At the time, the entire seminary campus closed at noon for lunch, which provided an ideal window for the ministry to be “open.” However, in 2020 when the seminary and world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so did the food distribution – temporarily. Knowing students still needed food, the ministry set up at Gambrell Street Baptist Church, directly across the street from the east side of campus.

The move off campus caused the ministry to dwindle to serving 20 students weekly, Eck remembers. Though the ministry was only one city street away, the Sutherlands realized the necessity of having a place on the seminary campus. Simultaneously, the building housing Brother’s Keeper, a ministry that provides clothes, home goods, and other supplies for students, had a pipe burst. When the leaders of Brother’s Keeper began to look to relocate to the Walsh Counseling Center building, they reached out to the Daily Bread Ministry to inquire if they would like to join in using the facility.

Initially, the Sutherlands and Eck thought they could return to using the basketball court at the RAC. After they viewed the space, though, they realized it would be ideal in two ways. First, the permanency of the location would allow them to keep all of the food supplies stocked on the shelves. Previously following the weekly food distribution, they would pack everything up and store it at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. The new space eliminated the extra work.

Second, the new space was adjacent to the kitchen in the Walsh Center, which opened the door to storing fresh items, including dairy and meat products, in the refrigerator and freezer.

The availability of meat products has been helpful to students, including Cristina Aguilera (’19, ’21), a Doctor of Education student from Colombia. Before beginning her seminary studies, Aguilera was a petroleum engineer who worked worldwide and is now the administrative assistant for Hispanic Programs. Aguilera is also a diabetic and says when she first visited the Daily Bread Ministry as a new seminary student many years ago her diet restricted her from getting many of the foods offered, so she “quit going.”

However, when a classmate told her of the meat and dairy products offered through the Daily Bread Ministry after they relocated to the space in the Walsh building, Aguilera found food supplies that not only helped with her diet but also rising food costs in a post-COVID economy.

“There are a lot of [foods] that [are] protein and a lot of other items that I could get – a lot of canned beans that I can eat,” Aguilera explains. “So, it has been really a blessing.” She adds that on occasion chicken is part of the weekly offering and as a single woman “a whole chicken will last me several meals.”

The provision through the ministry as a “gift” from the Lord has not been lost on Aguilera.

As a native of the Caribbean coastline of Barranquilla, Colombia, Aguilera was accustomed to seafood in her diet – specifically shrimp. She recalls one Saturday grocery shopping at a local market and seeing shrimp in the freezer. Realizing her seminary student budget would not allow her to purchase the shrimp, she was “very upset” and remembers telling the Lord, “If You had not taken the [petroleum engineering] job from me, I would be able to buy shrimp whenever I want to.” The following Tuesday when she visited the Daily Bread Ministry, “they were giving shrimp away” and “it was such a direct connection to what I just told the Lord during the weekend,” she says.

Throughout the nearly three decades the ministry has served Southwestern students, food provisions have come from a variety of places across Fort Worth. What initially began with donations from Kroger, has ebbed and flowed over the years to include Mrs. Baird’s discount bakery, other discount food stores, and local churches that have held food drives or given money to purchase food supplies, which the Sutherlands began doing from the Tarrant Area Food Bank beginning the second year of the ministry’s existence and continue to do today.

Southwestern alumni who were recipients of the Daily Bread Ministry when they were students also give to the ministry to help current students. Eck says some alumni who are pastors budget a gift to the ministry into their church budgets. She adds parents of former seminary students have also sent gifts to the ministry to help purchase foodstuffs.

The opportunity to serve Southwestern students is not one Coby sees as “doing it for seminary students,” but rather as “doing it for Jesus.” His perspective is shaped by Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:34-40 where Jesus tells the disciples when He returns He will acknowledge those who fed the hungry as doing so to Him. The words of the Lord also inform the Sutherlands’ and Eck’s desire not to be thanked or acknowledged. Coby is quick to add that when students do thank him, he tells them, “You make sure you thank the Lord and pray over this when you partake.”

A grateful people, though, cannot help but express their gratitude to the Sutherlands and Eck. After the 2007 academic year, the students who were served through the Daily Bread Ministry assembled a scrapbook that included pictures and letters of thanks from students and their families. Still today, the family receives cards and letters from former and current students who have been helped by the ministry.

“I wish we had a whole grocery store,” Coby concludes. However, he and his family rest in the knowledge that they are “being used to serve the Lord by helping some of these students” who are “making all the sacrifice.”

Ashley Allen (’03, ’09) is managing editor of Southwestern News.

*Name changed for security reasons.