By David Brown, 1st Lieutenant, Texas State Guard
LEWISVILLE, Texas - It may be blazing hot outside. It may be freezing cold. No matter the weather, on the fourth Saturday of each month, you’ll likely see Cecilia Woods there in the early morning outside of Westside Baptist Church in Lewisville, helping lift a bag of groceries into someone’s car, guiding someone through the process of picking up food for their family or arranging food on tables for distribution.
“We have grocery baskets, people can come and go through the line and pick up things from each section and then they just get in their cars,” Woods says. “We’re usually there from early in the morning until 12 noon… or our food runs out.”
Although Woods’ distinguished 25-year career as a pharmacist may seem far removed from her work distributing free food, volunteerism is something she takes seriously, even if she seems reluctant to take any credit. “I never like to be in the spotlight, but I always like to help serve,” Woods says. “It’s a great way to reach folks in the community and many of them are just downtrodden–they’ve fallen on hard times–so it's always an opportunity to share the word, pray with somebody and just help out.”
“Some of the people will come up and say ‘Hey, I know you from somewhere…OH, YOU’RE THE PHARMACIST! Yes! You’re my pharmacist!” Woods adds. “It really fills my soul.”
Minister John Baree, Servant Leader of the Community Outreach Ministry at Westside, explains that the church’s monthly food pantry is organized in conjunction with the Tarrant County Food Bank. “Cecilia Woods is one of our core people,” Baree says. “There’s a handful of people you can count on every month to volunteer. She’s one of those–someone we can always depend on and we just look forward to seeing her face there.”
As Woods says, “If I’m not working, I’m there because so many people in our community need help.”
When in her lab coat at the pharmacy, one might find Woods busy administering free shots during flu season or taking an active role in quarterly ‘wellness days’, checking customers’ cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure. “We’re able to give folks a kind of baseline of where their health is, and I think that’s especially important for people who really don’t have a family physician,” Woods says.
April is National Volunteer Month, but for Woods, volunteerism is a year-round activity. “It’s really something that I’ve always done,” says Woods. “It’s so funny: when my husband and I got married, I was always the one who’d go ‘Oh, someone’s standing on the corner, let’s give them five dollars, and he’d be like “oh, my baby– we’ll give away all our stuff!”, she adds with a hearty laugh.
In truth, neither Cecilia nor her husband, Anthony, who live in Frisco, is the kind to hold back when it comes to public service. Maj. Gen. Anthony Woods is the Commanding General of the Texas State Guard and an Army veteran who has lived a life of public service, and who clearly couldn’t be more proud of his wife’s many contributions to the community.
“When coats and clothes and shoes are needed for our church’s Veterans Ministry, she’s a part of that, too. As a matter of fact, she’s so strongly involved that on several occasions I’ve seen her in the Army “marshmallow suit” (severe cold weather jacket) handing out coats and food,” says Maj. Gen. Woods. “She’s very humble in her approach to service. You know, I think she really undervalues her contribution.”
Like military service, volunteerism has been a distinctive feature of American life since the country’s founding. According to Susan Dreyfus, writing for the ‘Stanford Social Innovation Review’, volunteerism plays a uniquely prominent role in American life compared to other countries. And yet, in recent years, volunteerism has been on the decline in the U.S., with 25.3% of Americans reporting that they have volunteered in the past 12 months, compared to an all-time high of 28.8% (between 2003 and 2005).
But in a time of rapidly rising inflation and economic uncertainty, a changing climate, aging demographics, and increasing demands on public resources, the need for volunteerism is growing.
“You know, Jesus said that the one that will be greatest amongst you will be a servant to all,” Minister Baree says. “Without those who have a heart for service like Mrs. Woods, we couldn’t help our community… no matter how much food we might have to distribute.”
Maj. Gen. Woods says he’s seen other family members of Texas State Guard soldiers make similar contributions to their communities, seldom if ever calling attention to themselves or receiving the recognition they deserve. “I see (servicemember) families’ commitment through my wife’s own service. For Cecilia, public service is truly a calling. If she doesn’t do it, she feels like she’s failing God. It’s like ‘I have to go–I cannot ‘not go’. Because of her service, her soul is satisfied.”
And communities across Texas are better for that commitment to serve.
From helping a local food pantry to giving blood, checking on an elderly neighbor, or supporting frontline health workers and first responder families, there are countless ways to volunteer. For more than 80 years, during disasters and emergencies, tens of thousands of men and women have served their fellow Texans in the uniform of the Texas State Guard. The nation’s premier State Guard force salutes all who serve in whatever capacity, and, as always, stands prepared and ready to answer the call - no matter the mission, no matter the hour.