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February 2022

At 84, this unsung Samaritan serves homeless on South Side of San Antonio

At 84, this unsung Samaritan serves homeless on South Side of San Antonio


Clad in a blue wool sweater, thick black leggings and boots, Angie LaPenta lifted bags of food into the bed of a truck on a recent Saturday afternoon. She wore a black beret over silver hair, pulled snug over her ears. As she worked, a silver chain and crucifix reflected the midday sunlight atop her dark pullover.

The 84-year-old inspiration was one of 50 volunteers loading cars and trucks with meals and packs of bottles to hand out to the homeless community during Pastor Shetigho Nakpodia’s “1,000 Plates for the Hungry” DreamWeek event.

When photojournalist Sam Owens and I visited Redeemer’s Praise Church on South Pine for the event, we knew we had the makings of a Monday column within minutes of meeting LaPenta.

During a break, she shared stories about helping those who live in the shadows of the city. On Christmas morning, LaPenta’s friend Carlos Cantú stopped his white pickup near the Hays Street Bridge on the East Side, where the homeless lay tucked away in makeshift camps, out of sight.

LaPenta opened the passenger side door and called out to the unseen that she had presents for them. When a young woman came her way, LaPenta handed her one of the bundles, along with her blessings. Then the woman asked LaPenta if she could have another gift, for her mother, who slept beside her under the bridge.

“It broke my heart,” LaPenta said. “When you see people without shoes, it’s heartbreaking.”

LaPenta is one of the many residents who feed, clothe and uplift San Antonio’s homeless without fanfare. For the past year, she’s been one of Nakpodia’s volunteers who travel across the city to feed the unsheltered.

At the event, Nakpodia hugged LaPenta, who is a whisper below 5 feet tall. Dressed in a yellow and purple motif-head wrap and full-length dress, the pastor said Cantú and LaPenta also trim the trees around the rust-painted church. The pastor said the slim grandmother, who does yoga, carries away tree stumps without help.

“She’s out here every Saturday,” Nakpodia said. “She’s amazing.”

LaPenta was born and raised in Natalia, 30 miles from San Antonio. She learned compassion and how to tend to the sick when she helped care for her mother, bedridden for eight years. Her mother died when LaPenta was 10.

“She taught me how to love, how to respect people and that we are all the same under the eyes of God,” LaPenta said

The octogenarian has known the aches and pains of hard labor since she was a child. She worked in the fields of West Texas with her family, hunched over, picking crops that included cotton, green beans, black-eyed peas and strawberries. After her mother died, she joined her father, brother and seasonal migrant workers in picking sugar beets in Colorado.

LaPenta is the last of six siblings still living.

By 1968, she had been a single mother of three children for 10 years. Her doctor said LaPenta was so thin she’d have to be hospitalized if she didn’t relocate to the city. She moved her family to San Antonio, where she met her future husband, Frank J. LaPenta.

It wasn’t love at first sight for her. Her kids fell in love with the man who played softball with them and other youngsters on their street. She recalled he would stare at her during the games. Smitten, he proposed two weeks later and told her to take her time thinking it over. But if she said no, he planned to keep trying to win her love.

“You’re not going to marry me,” LaPenta said, “you’re going to marry us four.”

They were wed for 48 years; Frank LaPenta died five years ago.

“God blessed us and kept our marriage together,” LaPenta said.

The couple ministered to the homeless for 10 years. She’s dedicated her goodwill stops in memory of her late husband.

Once a week, she makes sandwiches for the homeless around her South Side neighborhood. Cantú, 73, drives her to areas from Pecan Valley Drive to Brooks.

Cantú knows how it feels to receive a plate of food — he lived on the streets when he was a young man. Meeting LaPenta gave him an opportunity to offer others the same help he once received.

“To them, it’s something real big, very special,” he said. “They don’t know if they’re going to get a meal the following day or not. It’s kind of hard to swallow when you see people waste a lot of money when they could be using it for something positive.”

Before we left, LaPenta shared one last story from their travels around the city. She recalled a cold, rainy day when she saw hints of a camp by a South Side drainage ditch. Cantú parked the truck, and LaPenta stepped out to see a young woman climb up an embankment. The woman said she was caring for several older people. The pair handed her four meals. She thanked them and carried the food to the group clustered in the dark culvert.

“It made me cry,” LaPenta said. “I’ve never gone without food or a home. I’ve been blessed.”

Here's how you can celebrate Black History Month in San Antonio

Here’s how you can celebrate Black History Month in San Antonio


February is celebrated across the nation as Black History Month, and in San Antonio, that history runs deep. Black history in San Antonio is often overshadowed by those who fought for Texas’ independence. Historical figures like Ella Austin, Artemisia Bowden, and Charlie Bellinger have had a lasting influence on San Antonio.

There are several historic landmarks on the East Side you can see — including Ellis Alley and the Healy-Murphy Center — and several organizations will be hosting Black history events throughout the month as well. Here’s how you can celebrate San Antonio’s Black history this month.

Living history in San Antonio


San Pedro Creek dig unearths church cornerstone, illuminating more of AME community’s history in San Antonio

An archeological dig last year on the banks of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park in the west end of downtown San Antonio unearthed the cornerstone of the post Civil War-era Saint James African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The initials AME and the year 1875 are among the markings chiseled into the cornerstone. Researchers believe the church stood on the site from 1871 to 1877.

The river authority is building walkways, retaining walls, public performance space, art installations and water features all along the creek. It’s also adding landscaping to convert what was once a trashy creek and cement culvert for floodwaters into linear park space.

The artwork includes a five-panel mural that tells the county’s 300-year-old history and a lighted waterfall that will sync to music or voices speaking into a retro 1950s style microphone in front of TPR, which sits on the creek banks in the 300 block of West Commerce Street.

TPR’s Dreamweek panel discussion delved into this archeological significance, and the actual history with participation from the African American Archive and Museum, the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, Army Corps of Engineers, Trinity University and the current. St James AME Church pastor.

History of Black cowboys told in new exhibit at San Antonio’s Witte Museum

The traditional story of the Wild West needs a re-write to make it historically accurate.

The cherished fable of the horseback hero of the open range doesn’t reflect the actual racial diversity of the cattle drive.

For example, the 1960s cowboy TV show “Rawhide” was a fictionalized portrayal of the 1870s cattle trail. The characters, including Rowdy Yates played by a young Clint Eastwood, were all white. But — in fact — one in four of the cowboys on the trail was Black.

“A number of the cowboys were born in slavery and they began their journey as cowboys enslaved, as enslaved children,” said Ronald Davis, a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Texas at Austin.

He co-curated the Witte exhibit The Black Cowboy: An American Story. It tells the story of how frequently Black people did the tough and perilous work of settling the West.

The Witte exhibit, The Black Cowboy: An American Story, runs through April 2202.



Thursday, Feb. 10 | Noon to 1 p.m.: The Role of Code-Switching in DEIB | Virtual

Dr. Dana E. Crawford explores the psychological toll of code-switching, the price of notcode-switching and more in this free virtual event. Register here.

Saturday, Feb. 5 | 1-3:30 p.m.: Saturday Afternoon at the Movies @ Ella Austin Community Center

“The Bronze Buckaroo” and “Two Gun Man from Harlem” will show as part of the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum’s “Black History Month and Let’s Rodeo” event. There will be food trucks at the event.

Saturday, Feb. 12 | 3-4 p.m.: My Life as a Reader and Writer: A Visit with Author Varian Johnson | Virtual

Children’s and young adult author Varian Jones will share about his life and work in this San Antonio Public Library event.

Sunday, Feb. 13 | 4:30-6:30 p.m.: Black History River Tour @ La Villita

SAAACAM will host a 100-minute guided tour about the history of African American people in San Antonio. Tickets are on sale on the organization’s website.

Tuesday, Feb. 15 | 6-7 p.m.: Towards a Certain Future: Preserving African American Cultural Memory | Virtual

This SAPL event explores the transformation of historic spaces due to gentrification and what’s being done to preserve African American cultural memory and heritage in this time of change.

Tuesday, Feb. 15 | 6 p.m.: Living in My Skin @ The Carver 

“Living in My Skin” is a film about what it means to be a Black man in San Antonio. The in-person screening will be followed by a discussion with a panel of local men. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP here.

Sunday, Feb. 20 | 3:30 p.m.: The Untold Truths From Her Womb @ The Little Carver Civic Center

Presented by The Liberation Center, this dinner theater will highlight a feminine perspective of world history and the resistance, revolution and liberation that shaped the world.

Saturday, Feb. 26 | Starting at 2 p.m.: Film screenings @ Slab Cinema Arthouse

At 2 p.m., Slab Cinema will screen “I Am A Dreamer,” a documentary about today’s current state of affairs. Then at 4:30 p.m., “Daughters in the Dust,” an award-winning film. At 7 p.m., Slab Cinema will screen “Us.” The 2 p.m. screening is free; the other movies are $10.

Sunday, Feb. 27 | Starting at 2 p.m.: Film screenings @ Slab Cinema Arthouse

Slab Cinema will screen a couple of foreign films: “Touki Bouki” and “Black Girl” at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. respectively. Both movies are $10.

Digital Exhibit | Barrier Breakers: Pioneers in Medicine

The San Antonio Area African American Community Archive and Museum presents African American history-makers in San Antonio who changed the medical science field.

Recent recognition


The “grandmother of Juneteenth” has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thirty-three members of Congress signed a letter nominating Opal Lee for the prestigious award.

The Fort Worth native led a years-long effort to get Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday. She succeeded last year when President Biden signed it into law.

Juneteenth marks the day when enslaved African Americans were liberated in Texas two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The nomination letter says that Lee’s efforts were, “a symbol of her hope that we as Americans can come together and unify against social issues that are plagues on our nation.”

Local organizations and resources