Gilbert Montez is the kind of guy who prefers to give straight answers to every question. And for the most part, he is always spot-on — especially if the conversation has anything to do with Christian Community Action and the countless blessings the organization has provided families in need for almost 50 years.
But ask him when CCA’s birthday is, and you’ll get two dates — and a third somewhere in the middle.
“There’s no true birth date,” Montez said with a laugh. “For our upcoming gala, we chose a date in the middle.”
You can’t blame Montez, who proudly serves as CCA’s president and CEO and is as equally bought into the cause as the people who stand beside him. He knows the organization’s Christ-centered history like the back of his hand, and, in his defense, there really isn’t a definitive start date. The first gathering was on February 22, 1973, but the seven people there that night weren’t thinking about starting an organization. They were there for Bible study and became inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan and the teachings of Matthew 25, where Jesus said taking care of the least of us is as if you are taking care of me.
Those messages profoundly affected them, so much so that they immediately set out to serve others. The only problem was that they didn’t know any poor people. They’d have to find them — which, sadly, wasn’t a difficult task.
Hence, the birth of CCA — though it didn’t become a 501(c)(3) until that November. What started with seven people is now one of the largest private nonprofits in Denton County, with 28 staff members and nearly 6,000 volunteers. Annually, CCA provides more than 12,000 individuals and their families with services ranging from food to financial assistance, toys and gifts for Christmas, school supplies, spiritual counseling, and training programs to break the cycle of poverty.
They still use February 22 internally, but to honor both dates, Montez said they chose April 1, 2023, for their gala and to celebrate 50 years of bringing hope and changing lives in Denton County.
The event will be held at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Grapevine and will be a birthday like none other.
“We are celebrating 50 years of God’s favor, so we want a big birthday party,” Montez said. “Recently, a young man reached out to us with a financial contribution. When he was young, his dad got sick and died, and then his mom left. He told me that in those difficult times, CCA helped keep the lights on and their bellies fed. Now, he’s doing great and has his own family — and he was in a position to give back and say thank you. We had another woman who was once a single mother who CCA helped and is now on our board. It’s those stories of life change that we want to celebrate. I’ve been blessed far more than I deserve. This team and I have a chance to make a real difference in people’s lives.”
He added, “When I think about the thousands of people CCA has helped, I can’t help but think, wow … what a humble and God-centered beginning for this organization. And we’ve managed to maintain that purpose for 50 years.”
Sadly, the demand for the services that CCA and many other area nonprofits provide isn’t slowing down. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic practically in the rearview mirror, inflation, job losses, limited healthcare options, tragedy, and other factors continue to make life challenging for underserved families. And then there are the individuals and families who not long ago were financially independent and had previously never relied on social services to pay their electric bill or help with groceries.
As a result, CCA is experiencing all-time numbers.
In the nearly three years Montez has been the president and CEO, CCA has distributed 3.9 million dollars to families in its community. Its pantry, which looks like a grocery store, serves over 700 families weekly. During their last fiscal year (July 2021-June 2022), they helped 842 children with back-to-school supplies and clothes. They also served 37,000 meals to children during the summer in that stretch. Over 1,100 children received Christmas presents, and those numbers should increase this holiday season.
Approximately 1.5 million dollars was provided to prevent homelessness.
But that’s not all. CCA also offers spiritual care and counseling, life skills and job readiness, and classes such as ESL, computer and financial literacy, one-on-one coaching, and more. Through careful case management, CCA’s holistic approach from rescue to transition helps families in need achieve self-sufficiency for the long-term.
“There is need all around us, yet we don’t always open our eyes to see it,” Montez said. “Just think about when you’re at the grocery store, and you see the family in front of you at the checkout line, quietly putting things back that they can’t afford [once they see how much everything will cost]. That’s a family of poverty right in front of you. These people walk through our doors every single day. I try to look ahead for relief, but I don’t know when it’s going to change.”
The good news is that CCA will continue leading the effort to reach the light at the end of the tunnel eventually. Not only has the organization been entrenched in what it does for the past 50 years, but the people behind the scenes are equally as committed. Many have served in their roles for 10, 15, and even 20 years.
On top of that, the community — from everyday individuals to civic groups, government officials, and other nonprofits —continues to step up and provide additional support for CCA’s efforts.
“We have people here who have survived some lean years at CCA but remain committed to the purpose,” Montez said. “We also wouldn’t be where we are without the support we’ve received from the community. We have 250 volunteers a month who help with everything from answering phones to unloading food and providing financial assistance. We care about making a difference in whatever way we can. For example, we are getting ready for Christmas and are about to put smiles on 1,500 children’s faces with the toys and stuff we give to their parents.”
He added, “That’s 1,500 children who will have the kind of Christmas my grandkids will have. And it’s all because of the people we have here at CCA and a community that supports us.”
To learn more about CCA, visit ccahelps.org.