FORT WORTH-- For visitors, Monday was a slow day at the Fort Worth Stock Show, since most of the barns were empty.
But it was a busy day for the laborers who cleaned buildings and sidewalks in preparation for the Stock Show's final week.
Wearing yellow or blue vests, some of the 200 or so laborers are homeless people making a few extra bucks while away from the shelters. And when they are away from the shelters, they are away from agencies that provide free lunches.
A network of area churches has teamed up to pack sack meals so laborers working the Stock Show don't miss meals or spend the modest money they earn on food.
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"Just providing them a lunch can save them maybe $10 or more a day that they don't have to spend," said Melinda Veatch, executive director of the Tarrant Area Community of Churches. "That's a little money they could hopefully put toward moving in a better direction in their lives."
Almost 20 Tarrant County churches joined the effort, and by the end of the Stock Show, they will have distributed 4,950 lunches, she said.
Laborers pick up their lunches in a small office inside the Swine Barn. That's also where they pick up their vests -- blue ones mean they clean up after people; yellow vests mean they clean up after animals.
They do a wide range of tasks, including sweeping, mopping, spreading hay, and cleaning bathrooms and event rooms. Some work overnight shifts.
"This a 24-hour operation," said Mike Miller, Stock Show cleanup superintendent. "There is always something to do."
The lunches, once packed by church congregations, are delivered to First Street Methodist Mission, where volunteers load them into a vehicle and take them to the Stock Show.
Lunches are nonperishable (workers don't have access to a microwave or refrigerator) and include a protein, Veatch said. Food often includes Vienna sausages, tuna, fruit cups, peanut butter and crackers, fruit roll-ups, cookies and juice boxes.
Monday, some laborers sat together in the Swine Barn bleachers while they ate.
Larry Mathews, 55, said he has cleaned the Stock Show off and on for years and that he was formerly homeless, though he has housing now. He said he earned about $48 a day as a contract worker and that free lunches were valuable to workers who don't have food to bring.
"You go buy a hamburger for $5 and that's actually cutting into your pay pretty good," he said. "Nice to keep what you're earning."
Mike Mickles, 51, said that in the past, he and a group of laborers shared whatever food people did bring so everyone could eat. Knowing he had a sack lunch waiting for him during a break in his 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift made meal time a lot more pleasant, he said.
"We sure do appreciate it," he said. "Just one more thing you don't have to worry about."
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689