Susana Guevara, program coordinator for Buckner Family Place in Amarillo, was praying for a baker. She wanted to bless the residents at Family Place with a special birthday celebration each month and asked God to show her how she could afford to purchase a cake each month.
At the same time, sisters Peggy Burke and DeRenda Bishop were in the process of opening a home bakery. At their church, they learned about Family Place. Desiring to use their bakery for more than just profit, Burke and Bishop visited Family Place, met the residents and instantly felt called to help them. They asked Guevara if they could bake treats and donate them to the residents.
“I kept praying about this birthday celebration and spent all this time trying to figure it out when just out of the blue, Peggy and DeRenda showed up,” Guevara says. “It was definitely an answer to prayer.”
The road that led Burke and Bishop to baking for Buckner started about three years ago after their mother died from a long illness. Burke and Bishop were close to their mother and were her full-time caregivers. Her death was difficult for the sisters. Shortly after, Burke’s son died as well.
“We have been through a lot,” Burke says. “We were just exhausted mentally and physically so we tried to take time to ourselves.”
After about a year, they started to get “bored.” Burke and Bishop decided to open a home bakery. Neither can remember who originally proposed the idea, but before they knew it, they were pooling their money together, buying supplies and transforming Burke’s garageinto a professional, state-of-the art kitchen with double ovens, sinks and tools so they could work at the same time.
When it came time to name their bakery, they tossed around a few names and made lists of words strewn together to make different combinations, but nothingever seemed to fit until they were inspired by the memory of their mother.
“Our mother’s name was Lillie, and she was such a sweetheart,” Burke remembers. “She was the most adorable lady. She owned a daycare and everyone would call her Miss Lillie. That’s how we came up with the name Ms. Lillie’s Sweetheart Bakery.”
“That name just stuck,” Bishop adds. “It was special and perfect.”
Inspiration from their parents materialized in more than just a name. After years of watching their parents give back in service, Burke and Bishop desired to use their bakery for outreach as well.
“It’s just the way our family is,” Bishop says. “We’re a big, giving family. It started with mom and dad; they were big givers, and made sure we knew that it’s not all about us.”
The sisters fondly remember all the ways their parents would serve others. From creating quilts to send to missionaries and buying food for strangers on the street to helping their own family out with little or big requests and providing foster care, Burke and Bishop were eyewitnesses to their parents’ everyday acts of kindness.
“Our parents didn’t really have much,” Burke says. “We were raised pretty poor, and they didn’t have anything, but they just gave to everybody. They always had something to give. We grew up with the belief that you need to help people, not just yourself.”
It was a belief that was born from a trial. Burke was 8 years old when her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Bishop was 3. Receiving a brain tumor diagnosis in 1955 was a death sentence.
The doctor did not give them much hope. Up to that point, he never had a patient survive brain surgery. Suddenly, this young mother of five children faced a whole new reality.
“People prayed for her all over the world as we were told,” Bishop says. “God miraculously brought her through it. It wasn’t an instant healing, but she was totally healed. She was the first one of the doctor’s patients to live through that procedure, and she was normal our whole lives. We had her for our entire lives.”
Burke and Bishop feel it was their mother’s miraculous healing that led them down a road of service.
“We just grew up being grateful for everything God puts in our lives, including family,” Bishop says.
Burke and Bishop closed the bakery a year later, but they continue baking for Family Place. In addition to the treats they bake monthly for the birthday celebrations, they also provide baked goods or meals for holidays and other special occasions, and they enjoy coming up with new recipes and designs to surprise the residents.
“Our residents love the treats each month,” Guevara says. “Every month, it’s something different. We’re always excited to see what we’re going to get.”
Even though their home bakery has closed, Burke and Bishop are grateful they can continue to use their talents to bring some happiness to those in the Family Place program.
“We’re just so glad we found out about Buckner,” Burke says. “We love helping where we can.”
“We would do anything for Buckner,” Bishop adds.
Story and photos by Aimee Freston