In 2016 all John Walker had was an idea and a ton of faith. After his second stint as the mayor of China, Texas, a small town outside of Beaumont, John knew from first hand experiences how underserved his community was. Every month he saw citizens who were unable to pay their water bills, after researching he learned almost 30% of the community lived at or below the federal poverty level. He wasn’t sure how he could help, but knew there must be a way. With no plan John got to work!
On February 13th, 2017 he received the 501(c)(3) designation from the IRS! For four months John, his wife Joy, and small handful of volunteers worked without a facility.
In June of 2017 he was able to sign a lease for a small building on Hwy 90. The building had previously been a restaurant and more recently a tire shop, but had not been maintained in years. Over the course of a few months John, his family and a loyal set of volunteers had to rewire, paint, and landscape the small area. Before the HJHIC was accredited by the Southeast Texas Food Bank they would receive seemingly random truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables they could pass out any person that showed up. Week after week the amount of people who came for the fresh foods grew, often times they would load their vehicles, bring their goods home and come back to the little food pantry to help distribute food to others! After 6 months of renovations were done The Little Food Pantry at China, Texas (as John liked to call it) was finally able to receive non-perishable food donations to keep on their shelves and give out to citizen’s that qualified.
With every little success John and team had there were still many trials to be faced. The pantry thrived on donations, many times they were close to shutting the doors. But, many did whatever they could to help, one Tuesday morning John went to open the pantry and found (2) $1 bills pinned to the corkboard outside. The citizens of China believed in him and even when they had little, gave what they could.
A little over a year after the HJHIC began to call the little building on 90 home, and months of John negotiating with the China City Council they were finally able to move into a building owned by the Hardin Jefferson school district. This new home required significantly less labor to prepare, had central AC and heat, and did not have precarious stairs for elderly and handicap to brave!
In February of 2019 was an exciting month for the HJHIC. They had finally became a food partner with the Southeast Texas Food Bank, this meant they were able to bring more food into China for substantially less than they had previously been. John also started a small community garden, this way members of the community could volunteer in different ways, and those who were receiving food could also help to grow food. This part of the program would not only provide more produce to the community but also teach citizens how to plant and harvest food for themselves.
On January 31st, 2021 the HJHIC and China, Texas lost John Walker at age 68. While his family, the board of directors for the pantry and everyone who knew him were in a tailspin the first decision they made was to ensure John’s hard work was not for naught, the food pantry must stay open. Today we continue John’s dream, with the help of volunteers, donations and faith.