On Tuesday mornings, trucks pull up to the Baptist Mission Center, a low-lying building on Fletcher Street surrounded by dilapidated homes in north Houston. A knot of teenagers surrounds each truck, unloading piles of donated fruit and brand-name bread. Standing by and giving orders is a grandmotherly woman wearing a powder-blue dress: Mildred McWhorter, the Georgia-born daughter of a Southern Baptist minister and a Mother Teresa figure to Houston’s down-and-out.

McWhorter, who directs this and three other Houston mission centers for the poor, is soon inside the center’s nursery, checking up on a six-month-old who may have Down syndrome. “With a lot of children, their mommies will have a fight with the husband, and the children will get hurt,” she says, cradling the infant boy. “The mother won’t tell us if the child’s been hurt, but she’ll bring it to the nursery where we check them. We’ve seen a lot of hard, black spots on their backs. We’ve had one broken shoulder and one concussion. We work with the families. If we see a change, we’ll say nothing, but if not, we have to report them.

“You play sweet, now,” she says, laying the child back down. “I can’t help you no more.”

Mildred McWhorter isn’t glamorous by any definition. She finds it comical that three local women have named their daughters after her. Says Mildred, “One of those babies was one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. It had a little fat face. ‘Mildred,’ the grandmother would say, ‘she’s more looking like you every day.’ Now if that isn’t enough to make you humble, I don’t know what is.”

McWhorter, ...

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