Home News Local News Emmaus retreat changes the life of a local businessman

Emmaus retreat changes the life of a local businessman

Bill Cooper poses for a quick picture last week. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Roswell resident Bill Cooper’s life changed after he saw two signs about 15 years ago.

One was a physical, outdoor sign while the other was a sign — or message — from God.

I had been on an Emmaus weekend spiritual retreat at that point in my life,” he said. “I was doing a lot of soul searching and, under my standards, I was not living up to what God wanted to do.”

Emmaus is a ministry named for the location — according to New Testament accounts — where Jesus appeared to two of his disciples after the resurrection.

Not long after that epiphany, Cooper said he was driving along South Virginia Avenue and saw a sign for the Community Kitchen, a local ministry that feeds the homeless and the hunger.

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The kitchen opened in 1982 and operates out of St. Peter Hall at South Virginia Avenue and East Deming Street. It provides five hot meals Monday through Friday and hands out sack lunches on Saturday and Sunday.

“I walked in and introduced myself,” said the retired business owner. “My business was flourishing. I had been a taker and I wanted to give something back.”

Cooper, who was born in San Antonio, Texas, still works part time for the cattle-feed business that is now operated by his son, Jeff.

“The next thing I knew, I was at church next week and told the pastor I wanted to get involved with the kitchen,” he said.

Presently, 17 local churches are involved with the food ministry, and their members work as volunteers preparing and serving food.

As it turns out, the pastor of First United Methodist Church told Cooper that two church members, a married couple, were stepping down for health reasons.

“I stepped in their place and a few years later, when an opening came up on board, I was asked to take that up,” he said.

Cooper eventually moved up from board member to his present duties as board president when the former president moved to Texas.

Cooper said he is committed to the mission of the Community Kitchen, which is to feed those in need without charge.

There are no income requirements or paperwork to fill out. All one has to do is walk in, pick up a tray and walk down the serving line. The kitchen serves an average of 95 people a day.

Feeding that many people 365 days a year takes resources, and Cooper said there have been times when he’s wondered how the kitchen would make it though to the next day. But somehow, God always provides.

Besides the support of local churches, local businesses, large and small, donate to the cause, Cooper said.

“The people of Roswell are just great with their support,” he said. “This wouldn’t happen without them.”

Cooper said some of the food is donated by Harvest Ministries in Roswell, but the kitchen’s main support is from the Albuquerque-based Roadrunner Food Bank, which networks with hundreds of food-relief agencies throughout the state.

And, Cooper said, “There are individuals who bring potatoes and pinto beans.”

Sometime later this year, the Community Kitchen will relocate from St. Peter Hall to a nearby renovated building.

“We will have a bright, shiny kitchen,” he said. “It will be right behind us and it will be really nice.”

The Community Kitchen wasn’t the only ministry Cooper became involved with after the Emmaus weekend retreat.

He also is active with Kairos Prison Ministry International, which began in Florida in 1976. Kairos volunteers now serve in more than 400 correctional institutions in 37 states and 9 countries.

He and other Kairos volunteers in the area bring Christ’s message to the Lea County Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison near Hobbs.

Cooper said he understands that most of the inmates at the prison have committed serious crimes and belong in prison to serve their time. However, he also believes that people can change in their hearts, and need someone who will listen to them.

“We have laws we all have to abide by,” he said. “But every one of us in a split could do something out of anger that would change our lives.”

He said anger and drugs are two of the biggest reasons people end up in prison.

“We bring a little bit of life to a cold, dark place,” he said.

Cooper said people need to be willing to forgive.

“The worst thing is to fester and not be able to forgive somebody,” he said. “You need to find peace. I was not sent on this earth to judge people. If I can’t forgive, then how can I be forgiven?”

Cooper has a wife, Debbie, and three adult daughters along with his son Jeff. The couple have 10 grandchildren.

Brad Ussery, kitchen director at the Community Kitchen, said the ministry has made great strides since Cooper took over the leadership.

“We’ve became a United Way agency, which is a big help,” he said. “Before that we were totally self-sufficient.”

Ussery said that despite being a busy man, Cooper takes time to volunteer and spends time getting to know the individuals served by the kitchen.

“He talks to the customers and really cares,” Ussery said. “He helps me want to stay here and work with people.”

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.