By Lee Williams
Photos by Mark Graham
Ruth and Buddy Calzada provide a lot more than food and clothing to their extended Fort Worth “family.”
There was no epiphany for Ruth Calzada — she just knew that making kids happy made her happy, too.
So that’s what she does, along with husband Buddy and their two children, Gabby and Dash. They’re the core of Fort Worth Metro, a faith-based outreach program that provides wants and needs to children at Carter Park Elementary School and their families, and in the Stop Six community.
“These are the forgotten areas of Fort Worth, and they need help,” says Ruth, her cheeks as rosy in the cold as Santa’s.
On this day, their multipurpose trailer — a makeshift food bank, clothes closet, toy box and pulpit — is parked in front of Carter Park elementary. “We started here,” Ruth says of the school, where 97 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, “and have been here ever since.” A nasty cold front is blowing in, and the children, some shivering in T-shirts, are waiting in line for stuffed animals and single-serve bags of Skittles. Their parents are given boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal and handed tickets for a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway. Thank yous range from hugs and smiles from the kids to grateful nods from adults.
As the supplies run out, the Calzadas hurry into the school’s cafeteria to visit with the children in an after-school program. Some of the kids have Bibles on the table in front of them; all of them have snacks.
“We usually have a program for the kids and have racks of clothing and other stuff outside for them, but it was too cold today,” says Gabby, 19. She doesn’t remember when she started helping out her parents, “I just know I’ve been involved all of my life.”
When not volunteering, Gabby works part time with fifth- and sixth-graders at Christ Church Fort Worth in west Fort Worth and attends Tarrant County College. She also has a role, as does her brother, in Christmas City USA, the holiday musical at Southlake’s Gateway Church.
Dash, 15, is home-schooled and a natural at interacting with kids, whether at Carter Park, on East Broadus Avenue east of Interstate 35W, or on East Rosedale Street in Stop Six, in southeast Fort Worth.
“There have been times when they’ve run the whole program,” Ruth says of her children. “They’ve been a blessing.”
Metro stands for Mobile Effort to Reach Our City, and Ruth and Buddy have been running the operation for almost 20 years. Both had full-time jobs back in the mid-1990s, she as a waitress and he as a mechanic, when they quit to take positions with the nonprofit. That was in 1997, the same year that she and Buddy got married. They became executive directors of Fort Worth Metro in 2000.
The couple focused early on Carter Park, setting up their trailer across the street as school got out for the day. That was both good and bad. “They parked right across the street there, on the corner,” says school secretary Marletta Watkins.
“We had trouble keeping our after-school kids from running over there, so we asked them to set up over here. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?” she says. “And it’s so wonderful to have them here.”
Metro comes to Carter Park on Monday afternoons, from Sept. 1 through June 1. They openly share the message of Christ as part of their ministry, but it doesn’t define their service. And while Carter Park and Stop Six have long been their go-to spots, Ruth says, “We do outreach wherever we can, whether it’s faith-based or not.
“A lot of these neighborhoods have a lot of poverty and crime,” she says. “One of our goals is to bridge the gap between the neighborhoods and police, to improve those relationships.”
That’s an area especially important to Buddy, who works as a public information officer for the Fort Worth Police Department. Buddy joined the police force about five years ago, after thinking about his family’s future. “I’d been taking care of all of these kids and families for years and began to realize that I needed to take care of my own kids,” Buddy says.
He filled out an application to be a police officer, got accepted and graduated from the Fort Worth Police Academy. He started as a patrol officer, switched to the DWI unit, and then moved to public relations.
His job allows him to be with his family when Fort Worth Metro opens its trailer. He’s clearly a people-person, conversing in English and Spanish, explaining to parents that they’ll need a ticket to get a turkey the following week, joking with students.
“I love what I’m doing and the opportunity to serve the community,” Buddy says.
The couple was recently honored by the Fort Worth school board, for providing clothing and school supplies to children and holiday gifts and food to families.
“Ruth and Buddy provide to families of Carter Park Elementary School much needed resources as well as a sense of validation, dignity, and hope. More importantly, families and students know they can count on them to be there for them week after week,” Fort Worth school district spokesman Clint Bond told the board.
The week before Thanksgiving is one of Metro’s busiest times, and they’ll give away groceries and frozen turkeys to at least 300 families. For Christmas, Fort Worth Metro gifts every student new to the after-school program with a bicycle and all get stuffed stockings; parents are entered in a raffle for televisions and other items they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
Looking over the children in the Carter Park cafeteria, Ruth sweeps her hand across her body, as if waving a wand. She notes that the school is their sanctuary.
“These children, they’re the reason,” she says, dropping her hand to her side. “These families, these children, they’re not just people who live in this city.
“They’re family, and I can’t get enough of them.”
Fort Worth Metro The mission of the nonprofit is to “impact the city of Fort Worth with hope and to bring lasting change to generations.” Founders Ruth and Buddy Calzada rely on individual and business donations — both financial and items such as food, clothes and toys — to provide hope, fill needs and create change. “Everything we receive is given out, usually within a week of receiving it,” Ruth says. To learn more about the nonprofit, or to donate or volunteer, go to ftwmetro.org, call 817-480-1916 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.