When Pastor Albert Fuentes heard about the tragedy in Uvalde he knew exactly what he needed to do.
He packed up his trailer, the Disaster Relief Food Kitchen, loaded with over 600 meals, rallied more than 30 volunteers and set out to serve up delicious food with a side of compassion to families who needed it most. His mission: show people love.
Uvalde’s residents needed all they could get after Texas’ worst school shooting on May 24, when an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary School and killed 19 children and two teachers. The small community 80 miles west of San Antonio has been reeling ever since.
“I do know that the Lord has called us to just love people that are hurting and there’s nothing that makes people smile more than good food,” Fuentes said. “You can have the worst day ever but you’re still going to be hungry that day.”
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Beginning his walk with God at 27 years old, Fuentes built his congregation at Calvary Chapel Waco from the ground up with an emphasis on helping others. The growth shows no signs of stopping. A passionate leader and impromptu chef, he’s become better known as Pastor Fu, a beacon of giving in his community.
“I don’t like being called Pastor Albert; it’s intimidating to be called pastor. But Pastor Fu — short for my last name Fuentes — just sounds cool. I don’t mind Pastor Fu, and plus it rhymes with barbecue.”
Fuentes did Bible studies for his friends and family in his backyard before visiting a Calvary Chapel church in California in 1993. He felt drawn to Calvary Chapel’s ministry when he learned about its verse-by-verse method of study, which emphasizes a more in-depth and in-context approach rather than a topical one.
In 2002, Fuentes said he came across a page in a Calvary Chapel magazine that offered the opportunity to become a pastor for the church. A Waco native, he set his heart on starting a church here and in 2006 he officially became a Calvary pastor. His church has grown ever since.
Church member and employee Jason Baca said he never imagined leaving his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, but he felt this congregation’s love from the moment he started following Fuentes’ teachings on Facebook.
“That’s what attracted my family and I here … whether they know it or not, they know how to love people,” Baca said. “He made me feel welcome before I even got here. My wife and I pulled up with a truck and he had a crew at our house waiting and they helped us unload our truck. So that love just pulled us right in from day one.”
Outside the church, a major way Calvary Chapel has been able to share God’s love with the world is through its outreach efforts. Before Fuentes was able to take his barbecue on the road with the disaster relief trailer, the congregation started helping in other ways, most often by doing clean-up at disaster sites. They made their first stop in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, followed by the Joplin, Missouri tornado in 2011, the West explosion in 2013 and Hurricane Harvey, each time doing jobs such as clearing wreckage or spraying for mosquitos.
“When Hurricane Harvey hit we went to a little town, we took about 40 people with us on that trip and the mosquitoes were like swarms,” Fuentes said. “We had people just full-time spraying people down.”
The congregation visited Louisiana in 2020-21 following Hurricanes Delta and Ida, this time with a smoker in tow. Fuentes said because many of the volunteers were retired people, with his newfound barbecuing skills, feeding people seemed more productive and just the sight of the smoker boosted morale on its own.
“During Hurricane Ida, we went down to a town called Galliano, Louisiana, and we set up in their parking lot and gave away sack lunches with pulled pork sandwiches and brisket sandwiches,” Fuentes said. “And then we went back a week later and we did fajitas … and Dr Pepper and Big Red, Waco staples.”
Baca said during the 2020 trips to Louisiana he saw Fuentes’ love and the power of Calvary Chapel’s dedication to service in action. They had a line of cars the whole day, and volunteers offered meals and prayer to families yearning for hot food rather than MREs or $20 hamburgers.
“We figured not everyone would want prayer,” Baca said. “It turned out, I think out of those hundreds of cars that went through, I could think of maybe one or two cars that didn’t want us to pray for them. So you could tell people could really just feel the love and just wanted that love, which is the love of Jesus.”
Thanks to several donors, Fuentes was gifted the trailer along with a truck to pull it, allowing him to do even more outreach to share God’s grace alongside a delicious sandwich.
Although Fuentes’ barbecue is a hit wherever he’s called to go, he admitted he hasn’t always been the master chef he is now — he “stumbled into it.” His work with barbecue began with his meat smoker, a gift from a friend in 2019.
“I pulled it to my house, I parked it in my driveway and I just stared at it for two days because I’ve never used a smoker before,” Fuentes said. “So I YouTubed the heck out of smoking meats and I started realizing it was an art form, there was a lot to it, that it wasn’t easy.”
Fuentes practiced his skills on his loved ones, bringing in barbecue dinners on Wednesday nights and even cooking 300 pounds of meat for his daughter’s wedding. From there he began taking his cooking on the road, first in the barbecue smoker and now in the relief trailer.
Baca, who came to the church a couple years ago, works for the church preparing food boxes for those in need. He was recently hired as a full-time cook at the trailer, something he never imagined himself doing. He said in the future he wants to keep serving people and giving them the same love he’s been shown.
“Just loving on them and giving them food, I want us to have that same attitude when we’re serving people out of the food truck,” Baca said.
With Baca and volunteers working on the truck full time, Calvary Chapel plans to continue providing disaster relief.
Fuentes said there must be work done behind the scenes, mainly to generate revenue. The truck has already been to local events, most recently the Community Opportunity Event hosted by the Waco Police Department. While disasters are unpredictable, Fuentes said with the extra help he’s excited to be able to do more around town.
“That’s our goal right now, is to at least open it three days a week, do some of the events around town when there’s a food trailer needed,” Fuentes said. “We’re open to do community events as long as we can get the volunteers and the donations to buy the supplies … We just want to be a blessing to the city in whatever capacity we can be now that we have that amazing trailer.”