Sir Kendrick’s Smile for Autism is Serving Neighbors at Every Level

During World Autism Month, NTFB recognizes partner Sir Kendrick’s for its commitment to families and the community of Rice.

Staff at Sir Kendrick’s Smile for Autism, including Charletta and Moses Marrero (right)

Charletta and Moses Marrero couldn’t have pointed Rice, Texas out on a map back in 2018. Now, the couple who run Sir Kendrick’s Smile for Autism and its food pantry consider the city a second home.

“I’d never heard of Rice,” Charletta said, explaining that they moved their organization there after a request by the mayor. “After they asked, I prayed to God and said, ‘OK, it’s going to be a lot of work, but we can do it.’”

The Marreros originally founded Sir Kendrick’s in 2014 from their home in Cedar Hill after struggling to find resources for their son when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

“When he was diagnosed, they didn’t give us any resources or tell us where to go,” says Charletta, now CEO of Sir Kendrick’s Smile for Autism. “There were many nights that we just cried because we didn’t know what to do to help our baby, Sir Kendrick. When we finally got everything going, I said, ‘there’s got to be a way to help others.’”

The family has done just that, supporting other caregivers in seeking testing and early diagnosis for autism and in finding resources to help their children live “as normal of a life as possible.” Throughout their work, Charletta and Moses also realized many families needed more than autism-related resources, and they always stepped in to help however they could, funding their efforts largely with profits from their insurance business, The Marrero Group.

They weren’t in Rice long before they realized that access to food was a major need of families they were already serving as well as their neighbors. Through a partnership with the North Texas Food Bank, they opened a weekly pantry last fall that provides residents with free groceries. It’s not unusual for them to serve 600 people in one morning, and they’re already looking to relocate to a larger facility downtown.

Kathleen Myers, Rice resident and food pantry recipient

“What they’re doing for the community is just absolutely awesome,” says neighbor and pantry recipient Kathleen Myers. “There’s a lot of people here — I don’t know what they’d do if they didn’t have them.”

Kathleen is among those who visit for groceries that include shelf-stable items plus fresh produce. She and her husband are retired and do their best to stretch the food they purchase, but she says the extra help from Sir Kendricks’ and NTFB is a blessing that gets them through each month.

Dana, another neighbor who visits the pantry regularly after losing her home and belongings in a fire, describes Sir Kendrick’s as “a Godsend.”

Following the fire, Dana and the two grandchildren she is raising moved to Rice so they could live with her sister. Sir Kendrick’s not only provides her with food to nourish her young grandkids, but they also gave her clothing, diapers and other necessities to help replenish what she’d lost. One of Dana’s grandchildren lives with autism spectrum disorder and Sir Kendrick’s has provided Dana with a community so she can talk with other caregivers and learn how to respond to her grandchild.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them, especially the first few months trying to get back on my feet,” she says. “I pray for them every day, and I hope they stick around.”

Charletta says caregivers like Dana are invited to weekly parent cafes where they can talk with other caregivers of children living with autism, hear from experts and receive resources. While caregivers are meeting, kids play in the sensory room across the hall.

In addition to the pantry and free autism resources, Sir Kendrick’s runs a store that offers clothing and other goods at low prices. If a family needs items and can’t afford to buy them, Charletta says they provide them with vouchers.

Along with moving the pantry to a larger location, Charletta says they hope to transform the current location into a call center for their insurance agency so they can help create jobs for the community of Rice. For now, they’re focusing on meeting their neighbors where they are.

“I try to put myself in their shoes,” Charletta says. “We treat them with dignity—that’s why we give them coffee and popcorn while they’re waiting—just because you’re in need doesn’t mean you are less.”

And Kendrick, who inspired it all, can often be found among the volunteers helping stock the pantry each week. “He’s 13 and he’s doing well,” Charletta says with a smile.