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Momma T and the Warriors

New widow finds a new purpose in street ministry.

Every week in Parkersburg, West Virginia, in one of the poorest sections in the city of 30,000, trucks pull up to Lynn Street filled with tables to erect, hot home-cooked food, and bags of clothes to distribute.

Volunteers wearing purple “Momma T and the Warriors” sweatshirts set up warming plates, lay out clothing and blankets, and look for direction from a smiling lady the locals call Momma T.

Teresa Ann “Momma T” Racer, 60, never had worked on the streets before she began her food and clothing ministry in October 2018. A former beauty distributor and Sam’s Club employee, she had spent the past five years taking care of her husband, Tom, as he battled dementia.

Racer and her husband had been married 36 years before he died in June 2018. About three weeks before Tom died, he had a few moments of clarity.

“He looked me right in the eyes and asked if he was going to heaven,” Teresa recalls. Tom asked her to pray with him for salvation, and they cried together before he slipped back into unawareness. Before he died, Tom awoke from a coma to tell the family gathered in his home that he had seen Jesus.

After his death, Racer wondered about her purpose in life, with her husband gone and her four children grown. She believes God told her to take the love she had for her husband to people on the streets — feeding, clothing, and helping them without condemnation. Racer says her instructions included making clear that God loved them and wanted to meet their needs.

Early in her marriage, Racer lived in a poorer section of the city. Children from the neighborhood came to her family-friendly residence, calling her Momma T. Later, while working at Sam’s Club, young cashiers did the same.

A month before Racer began her ministry, she outlined her plan to daughter Heather M. Willis, 35. Initially, Willis thought her mom’s grief had clouded her judgment.

The first week, Racer and her prayer group from Parkersburg First Assembly went out with one table and three pots of chili. The second week, more people showed up. By the third week, Willis says she realized God had laid the ministry on her mother’s heart, and she came out to support her.

“She’d call me and be sobbing, sharing stories about how people were touched,” Willis says.

The first week Willis went out to serve, she and her mother met a couple recovering from heroin use. The woman, four months pregnant, lived in a home without food and utilities that had been shut off. The man worked, but without a vehicle he could only find a minimum-wage job nearby. Willis decided she and her mother would raise the money to buy them an automobile.

Willis went through her residence looking for items to sell, put out a request on Facebook, and worked to raise donations. After a month, she had raised $1,200, enough to buy a 1991 Buick LeSabre, first month’s insurance, taxes, title, and a tankful of gas to donate to the couple. Racer and Willis have continued to aid the couple, including buying heaters for their home. Willis is proud of her mom turning her personal tragedy into a blessing for others.

Currently, the ministry feeds around 350 people per week. Donations for the food, which costs around $800 weekly, come from a multitude of sources, including passersby who stop at the site to contribute.

Racer posts the week’s menu on Facebook. Many donations and helpers come from churchgoers who attend Parkersburg First Assembly. Racer and a few helpers cook the food at their homes, then truck-driving volunteers transport the meals and clothing donations.

Some weeks, volunteers share their Christian testimony, and recently live worship music has accompanied the distribution.

“God sent me to the worst area in the city,” Racer says. “These people are so considerate and thankful for everything we do for them.”

Pastor Brad W. Puckett of Parkersburg First Assembly thinks God has a special plan for Racer’s ministry. The church provides a nonprofit covering for the ministry.

“So many within our fellowship and community have embraced this mission with an infectious passion and love for those they are ministering to and for those they are ministering with,” Puckett says. “This outreach is not only ministering to the community, it’s ministering to the churches. This ministry isn’t just about clothes on backs and food in stomachs. It’s about Jesus touching and changes lives through His Church.”

Racer says some recipients — as well as a few non-Christian volunteers — ask spiritual questions.

“There are so many people that need help, and obviously the ultimate goal is their soul,” Racer says. “But they have to trust first and know we aren’t judging them and that we care about them.”

Top Photo: Teresa Racer (right) is assisted by her daughter Heather Willis at the weekly outreach.

Rachel Ellis

Rachel Ellis resides in the mountains of West Virginia with her husband, Michael, and two children. She is a graduate of Evangel University and a licensed AG minister, as is her husband. Ellis works as a freelance journalist and artist, and she enjoys helping the people of God tell his story of redemption through the power of the written Word.