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Barbecue fundraiser serves up a side of hope (Video)

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Sept. 30, 2012 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:01 a.m.

Church members and volunteers help pack food into to-go containers at Christ the Victor Lutheran Church during a barbecue fundraiser for the Hope of South Texas, a sexual assault crisis center.

HOW TO HELP

• WHAT: Hope of South Texas Sexual Assault Crisis Center, a nonprofit agency in the Crossroads for people in crisis.

• LOCATION: 314 E. Rio Grande St.

• COUNTIES: Hope of South Texas serves the Golden Crescent region, including Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Jackson, Lavaca and Victoria counties.

• TO DONATE: P.O. Box 3651, Victoria, 77903

• MORE INFO: hopeofsouthtexas.org

Inside Christ the Victor Church on Sunday, Victoria Police Lt. Ralph Buentello donned a maroon apron while he served up plates of brisket and potatoes.

The Hope of South Texas board chairman proudly boasted a gravy-dusted apron with his name stitched on it as he prepared 800 barbecue plates with Lutherans of Hope volunteers to raise money for the struggling sexual assault crisis center nonprofit.

"We're hoping with events like this, we can reestablish some of the services we've had to suspend," Buentello said, mentioning Hope of South Texas' elimination of its 24-hour sexual assault hotline and family advocate services.

Since the 1980s, Hope of South Texas has been a go-to organization for sexually assaulted children and adults. With the help of specially trained forensic interviewers, Hope of South Texas teams with law enforcement officials to investigate allegations of sexual abuse for children and adults.

But when the state began withdrawing support funds in 2011, many of the organization's services and staff positions needed to be temporarily cut, including those used for adults. For more than a year, the organization has been attempting to restructure, in hopes of restoring the programs in the future.

Enter Lutherans of Hope, a Lutheran-based service community in Victoria, who contacted Buentello several weeks ago about organizing a fundraiser.

"I think the community has gotten used to Hope of South Texas being here. We just assume they will always be there, but that isn't the case," said barbecue attendee Laurel Graham, a licensed professional counselor who has referred many of her clients to the agency through the years. "It's critically important to provide their services in combination with private therapy."

Julie Flessner, former executive director for Hope of South Texas, said she stepped down from the organization about two weeks ago, but said she hopes the organization will continue its fundraising efforts.

"We did not think we were going to generate enough money today to re-establish services, but we wanted to bring attention to the critical need of Hope of South Texas in this area" Flessner said. "Events like this will not solve the financial crisis, but when we compound this event with others, it will help chisel away some of it."

Sunday's event raised about $2,500, and Buentello said he is open to partnering with other community organizations for future fundraisers.

"There are no words to describe the kind of generosity Lutherans of Hope and Christ the Victor has shown today," Buentello said. "These organizations have put together a tremendous event and we are truly grateful."

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