Silent Heroes’ services nourish their neighbors
One hails from Cuba, while the other is from central Coffee County. Yet the March and April Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass winners both feed local residents in critical ways.
Anabella Ricardo teaches free art classes to senior citizens and children, providing minds with inspiration and skill development opportunities. B.J. Cardwell directs the Coffee County Community Church Mobile Food Pantry, which provided more than 270,000 pounds of food to needy families in its first year of operation.
Both received $1,000 thanks to Wiregrass Electric Cooperative’s (WEC's) Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation and WEC’s partnership with WTVY News 4.
“Five years into the program, we continue to find amazing stories to highlight and tremendous causes to support through Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass,” WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro says. “It’s a testament to the quality of people who live and serve in the Wiregrass. We thank WTVY for helping us highlight these great deeds, which inspire others to make a difference in their communities.”
Improving the Mind
Ricardo always had a fascination with art. She began painting at 3 years old, and her father’s abstract paintings inspired her to create art galleries wherever she lived. After immigrating to the United States, she resided in Miami and California before settling in Hartford in 2015.
Shortly after her move to Hartford, she got into “pouring” art, where mixtures of paint are dumped onto canvases or tiles through a variety of techniques. The medium creates vibrant, marbled paintings that are unique.
“I saw how easy it was. I started going to all the senior centers, asking to do a demonstration,” Ricardo says. “Once I did a demo, they all wanted to do it. I started doing the painting classes with the seniors.”
In 2018 she opened the Hartford Art House, providing another outlet to teach classes. Those included a free class once a month for children.
“When the children lifted that little cup and they see all the colors that came out, they loved it,” she says. “When it dries, I apply resin. They can have the tile that will last them forever.”
Ricardo, who also tutors math and serves in her church, embraces teaching new skills to others.
“I get satisfaction out of it,” she says. “The joy that I see in these people overcame me. When I see the eyes of those kids lifting up the cup, that’s the satisfaction.”
Cardwell discovered his latest passion during a visit to the New Brockton Senior Center in 2018 when he learned the center sent a van to a Pike County church’s food pantry.
Intrigued, he and his wife, Kathy, followed along to learn how the pantry operated. After some observation, Cardwell realized he needed to implement a similar program in Coffee County.
“We knew we had the need,” he says.
Cardwell knew he faced some logistical challenges in establishing the program, but others sensed the need for a food pantry, too. The Coffee County Community Church Mobile Food Pantry launched within the year.
“We had to figure out how to get the facility,” Cardwell says. “We met with the Coffee County commissioners, and they allowed us to use the Coffee County Farm Center pavilion. They never questioned it. Then we had to find funding. We called five churches, and every one said yes. That sparked the interest.”
In the first year, the program served more than 3,500 participants. At one time, it supported 450 families and provided them each with 75 to 100 pounds of food. The coronavirus pandemic affected the outreach, but still about 250 families benefit from the effort monthly.
The pantry operates as a drive-thru. A semitruck delivers food to the Coffee County Farm Center, and the food is separated into three different stations. Those in need drive through an outdoor pavilion, where necessities like milk, meat, potatoes, and canned goods are placed into each vehicle’s trunk.
Cardwell even helped Mims Hill Baptist Church Pastor Robert Michaels launch a similar program in Geneva County.
“It’s just a good thing,” Cardwell says. “They feed as many as we do. It’s just a blessing to help them. It’s a passion for me. It’s something I love to do. I want to see it go for years and years.”
Ricardo says she appreciates WEC and WTVY for supporting Silent Heroes like her, who often apply the $1,000 grants directly to the causes they serve.
“I’m going to use that for Michael’s and Hobby Lobby because I need a lot of supplies,” she says. “I think it’s awesome.”
To nominate someone for a Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass honor, visit the WTVY website.
Offer Your Support
To support the Hartford Art House’s free classes, email Hartford Art House or message the Hartford Art House Cafe Facebook page.
To support the Coffee County Community Church Mobile Pantry, mail donations to Coffee County Baptist Association, 603 E McKinnon Street, New Brockton, AL 36351.
To support the Geneva County Food Pantry, contact Robert Michaels at (334) 360-4428.