When Rev. Frank Diaz began working at El Buen Pastor, he requested a ground-floor office for his workspace. The previous pastor worked upstairs—and Rev. Diaz quickly saw why. The poor and homeless were constantly knocking. Many were young men asking for baby food. Rev. Diaz assumed they had babies to feed. He was wrong. “[These men] would smile but they had no teeth.” The local hospital had up to a six-month wait. People suffering from toothaches couldn’t endure the pain and resorted to pulling their own teeth.
Thanks to Rev. Diaz and Roland Castaneda, an elder at El Buen Pastor, Manos de Cristo opened its doors in 1988 to provide dental treatment and basic needs services to the needy in East Austin. A major grant from the National Presbyterian Church and support from Austin-area churches and organizations enabled Manos’ founding principle to embody the highest ideals of Christian service by reaching out with compassionate concern.
Manos made an immediate impact in the Central Texas community and in 1990 opened a Dental Clinic on the central east side of Austin. Manos’ reach continued to grow with the development of basic needs services; the Back-To-School program; computer, citizenship, and English classes; and Legal Aid. By word of mouth and through local radio and television public service announcements, Manos became known as a place that meets the needs of people struggling to make a living. “When people come here, they don’t have to worry about [complex eligibility] rules and requirements. We don’t challenge [people] to prove they are telling the truth…If they need help, they’ll get it,” explains Danielle Hernandez, former Manos Board member and longtime volunteer. In addition to an expanded Dental Center, Manos now has headquarters and programs in north central Austin, allowing space for expanding services as well as a location that helps Manos to reach more people.