THE WHITE VAN SQUEALS TO A stop in the loose gravel of a dilapidated mobile-home park in Houston. The driver blasts the horn five times, and children come running from every direction. One little boy in a blue sweatsuit races back from the van to his mother, excitedly waving a lunch bag over his head. He knows the sack contains a plain turkey sandwich, an apple, a granola bar and some juice. But he couldn't be happier with a bag of Halloween candy.
"How excited would you be if you hadn't eaten since we were here yesterday?" asks Carol Porter, 50, co-founder of Kid-Care, Inc., a nonprofit group that helps feed some of Houston's neediest children. "It's better than ice cream to these kids. It's hope."
Porter and Kid-Care's corps of up to 25 volunteers deliver 500 free meals each day to children in one of Houston's poorest neighborhoods. Every morsel is prepared by volunteers in Porter's cramped North Houston home, where extra stoves and refrigerators are shoe-horned into what used to be the family's living room and den. Remarkably, Kid-Care accepts no public funding. "I'm against people saying, 'Let the government do it,' " says Porter. "I say it's time for Americans to feed Americans."
Carol Porter, a registered nurse, and her husband, Hurt, 52, a former radio announcer—they have a son, Hurt III, 20, and a daughter, Jamilhah, 10—might serve as a poster couple for the Contract with America. They are black Republicans who are dead set against welfare in its current form. "I get a lot of flak from black folks," says Carol Porter. "But I'm basing my belief structure on what I know. And I know we need welfare reform with compassion."
"I think we should do more to encourage self-reliance, and that's what the Porters are doing," says Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Compassion is something the Porters learned from their parents. Carol, in fact, credits her late mother, Lula Doe, with planting the idea for Kid-Care. It was Lula who, in 1984, persuaded a local supermarket not to discard its blemished produce but to let her distribute it to the poor.
The Kid-Care idea began to take shape at Christmas 1989, when Carol came on a group of children eating out of a McDonalds' dumpster. "I saw Third World conditions a stone's throw from where I live," she says. Two years later, Kid-Care was created as a nonprofit organization.
These days, the Porters' three-bedroom bungalow is hemmed in by Kid-Care vehicles. Industrial-size cans of beans, tomatoes, corn and spaghetti sauce line shelves tacked up in the family room. Bags of disposable diapers, bulk rice and dozens of loaves of bread are stacked alongside. In the center of the room is a banquet table, where the sandwiches are prepared in a huge assembly line. In the next room, a magnet stuck to one of four refrigerators reads, "Carol's Kitchen." "Hah!" snorts Carol. "This hasn't been my kitchen in years."
Until late last year, Kid-Care provided not only brown-bag lunches but also hot meals. That was when the Houston health department forced the Porters to suspend cooking operations until certain code violations were remedied. That problem should be solved by May, when the Porters hope to move Kid-Care into its newly acquired 11,500-square-foot building equipped to produce 4,000 hot meals a day. That is, of course, if they can increase their funding. Carol Porter's tireless fund-raising has given Kid-Care high visibility among corporations—Quaker Oats and long-distance company Heartline Communications are sponsors—but most of the current annual budget of $500,000 comes from individual donations. The couple supplements Hurt's $2,000-a-month stipend from Kid-Care with a contract to oversee Houston-area daycare providers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hurt III earns $1,000 a month managing Kid-Care's transportation.
Carol, whose dream is to seed Kid-Care groups across the country, draws no salary. "People ask me what's in it for me," she says. "And I tell them to go the route with me and see my kids' faces. That's what's in it for me."
LAUREL BRUBAKER CALKINS in Houston
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