Kenneth and Mary Ann Eichler, members at ACL congregation Abiding Love and regular volunteers at Bread For All, are moving out of state. They will be sorely missed at church and at ACL’s weekly food pantry.
Last summer, they escaped the brutal Texas heat for an extended stay in the state of Washington to visit their daughter. As they travelled to various locales in the Evergreen State, Mary Ann noticed beautiful vegetable gardens and lush fruit orchards. Kenneth noticed the same. While enjoying multiple days of gorgeous weather on the trip, Kenneth made a suggestion: “We oughta move up here.”
Mary Ann wasn’t so sure about the idea at first. But Ken persisted. Before long, Mary Ann wholeheartedly agreed with her husband of fifty-eight years.
Kenneth and Mary Ann grew up on farms of corn, cotton, and cattle in the nearby communities of Dime Box and Lincoln in Lee County, some sixty miles directly east of Austin. They met at country school. They fell in love and married soon after finishing high school. Like many other rural Central Texans, they moved to Austin to work and raise a family.
Kenneth and Mary Ann were happy to raise their family – son Michael and daughter Deanna – in Austin but they didn’t abandon their rural roots.
Both of their mothers kept gardens. “Those gardens helped keep us alive,” Mary Ann remembers. Mary Ann learned how to can vegetables while growing up on the farm. Ken’s mom had a large, productive and meticulously kept garden at their farmhouse near Dime Box.
To this day, Mary Ann still cans jellies, cabbage, okra, cucumbers, beets and any other vegetables she can get her hands on. Whether in Austin at the various places they’ve lived, or in Lincoln for a ten-year stretch, Kenneth and Mary Ann have always kept a garden.
Kenneth worked as a print pressman and retired in 1998. Mary Ann worked at the IRS complex in South Austin and retired in 2008. When Abiding Love established its food pantry in 2005, Ken was among the first volunteers who picked up supplies at the food bank and excess food at area grocery stores. When the Eichlers moved back to Austin from Lincoln in 2018, they were recruited by BFA Coordinator Barb Tiedt and joined the volunteer crew at the “new” food pantry that Abiding Love and ACL sponsored.
“We know there’s a need and we like to help,” Mary Ann says. “It’s what Christians are supposed to do – that’s what we’ve been taught.” Mary Ann is grateful for her mother, a faithful role model, who taught her about Jesus. “She taught us to be kind, helpful, and friendly. She was that way herself.”
Mary Ann is a quilter and in the past year has generously donated a number of quilts to BFA and Abiding Love’s food pantry, targeting unhoused neighbors. Her quilts also went to families at the other ministry that ACL supports, Mariposa Family Learning Center. Ken is a tireless servant and able fix-it man. Along with picking up food donations for BFA, he also pitched in with the building rehab effort at Mariposa FLC.
The Eichlers will deeply miss volunteering for ACL, especially at Bread For All. “What a wonderful group of people to work with,” Mary Ann says. “We’re like a family.”
Kenneth and Mary Ann plan to continue their volunteerism once they get settled into their new home just north and east from where the Columbia River bisects Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon. They’ll join the church, Zion Lutheran, that their daughter attends in Camas, Washington. Mary Ann will continue to make quilts for Lutheran World Relief to assist refugees and those devastated by disasters. They’ve already identified a food pantry ministry where they hope to help out.
Kenneth and Mary Ann say that they’ll have an extra bedroom at their new place in Washington. They welcome any Texas friends who’ll need a break from the brutal summer heat. To boot, visitors will get a tour of Kenneth and Mary Ann’s new garden, sure to be chock-full of beautiful vegetables to be shared at their kitchen table and at a food pantry close by.