When the snow began to fall late Sunday evening, Bobby Conteras, wife Hannah, and their two daughters ran outdoors to make the most of the rare Texas event, playing and laughing along with four other families.
They were taking pictures in front of the Alamo Heights Baptist Church, where Conteras is the pastor when Hannah pointed to the church marquee.
Black letters spelled out, “The greatest threat in the community,” a reference to the sermon he had delivered that morning about people who call themselves Christians but do not show love, compassion, and forgiveness, as Jesus taught.
“My wife made the comment, ‘You probably shouldn’t have the “greatest threat” anymore,’” Contreras said. He quickly shuffled the letters to reflect their high spirits: “Community snow day.”
Like people across the city, they awoke Monday to a winter wonderland. “There were probably about 15 to 20 kids with moms and dads outside and we were sledding and running around making snow angels in the church parking lot, just really enjoying the time,” Contreras said.
Then everything “downshifted,” he said, and as the danger of power and water outages in sub-freezing conditions displaced the merriment, the sign came to mean something hauntingly more.
With his own pantry already stocked with food and his home warm, Contreras reached out to his congregation via text message. It was the start of a series of efforts to make sure those around him had basic items, warm meals, and human contact.
“We just started contacting all the people that we could and that’s kind of when we started hearing that there were some individuals that hadn’t had power,” he said. “So we invited them over.” Three families spent the night in his home.
Next, he contacted the Burmese congregation that regularly meets in the Baptist church, offering them the sanctuary as a warm place to stay. They declined, he said, but needed food so he delivered groceries.
Contreras then expanded his outreach to friends in the community, to the staff and teachers at the San Antonio Independent School District school where his wife teaches and a neighborhood school, and to the local fire and police department.
“We have some individuals that are in assisted living facilities, so we’re checking on them as well,” Contreras said. “We couldn’t find milk but at least we got some bread and other items for them.”
Soon, their example began to snowball. About five families contacted Contreras to offer up shelter in their carriage houses. An Army couple volunteered to check on soldiers in the barracks at Fort Sam Houston. The pastor of another local church, St. Andrew’s Methodist, hosted a spaghetti supper for those in need of a hot meal.
Contreras and his family also spent an afternoon at Armadillo Boulders, where his daughter is on a climbing team, helping fill water bottles. The gym was open for people to charge their devices, and the pastor has offered to assist those families as well, inviting them to dinner.
“It’s been awesome to see a shift from the playing time [in the snow], which we’re still enjoying … taking people on walks to the basin just to get out of the house,” Contreras said. “But then there’s also the shift the other way into just taking people in or getting groceries to people where they need it.”
Describing Alamo Heights Baptist as a “commuter campus,” Conteras said members who attend services at the church on Broadway Street come from all across the city and range in age from infant to a woman who is 102.
On Thursday, Contreras met by phone with leaders from Baptist churches across the state to discuss how and where to deploy resources to help.
“My wife and I have been here 13 years, and this is what drives us,” he said. “We want to be a place that the community can have as its home. This is truly what I hope encapsulates our hearts and where we seek to go, not just today and what we’re in, but whatever else we might face.”
In recent days, houses of worship of various faiths throughout the region have opened their doors to provide residents with a warm place to stay and a hot meal. “I just put on a pot of coffee,” said Father Christopher Muñoz of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in a Wednesday afternoon Facebook post.
Other churches providing shelter include:
- Crosspoint Fellowship Church, 2600 Roy Richard Dr., Schertz, 210-658-6240
- Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2114 W. Houston St., 210-227-5059
- St. James Catholic Church, 510 S. Camp St., Seguin, 830-379-1796
- St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 1114 Willow St., 210-226-5223
- Our Lady of Angels Church, 1214 Stonewall St., 210-924-6591
- Our Lady of Guadalupe Helotes, 13715 Riggs Rd., Helotes, 210-695-8791
On Thursday, the City urged residents to support one another by offering warmth, food, and water to those in need. The “action alert” provided a link to Compassionate San Antonio, a network of support organizations, and outlined ways to help – especially those in close proximity to you.
“Research clearly indicates that the most effective and efficient method to impact community need is to act as locally as possible in expanding concentric circles,” the alert stated. “Communicate in the same manner – local points of contact connected to expanding concentric circles of communication.”
Reporter Jackie Wang contributed to this story.