Sanders describes journey from feeding homeless to running for mayor

Stephen Sanders, mayoral candidate in Lubbock, Texas

Stephen Sanders, mayoral candidate, courtesy photo

When mayoral candidate Stephen Sanders was growing up in Lubbock, he was in a church youth group.

“We would go out and do street ministry … we would feed the homeless and we would clothe the homeless,” Sanders said.

In the early 2000s, Sanders returned to Lubbock from his military service.

“I was much older and – that same drive – I wanted to do that same stuff. And so I started going out to feed the homeless on my own,” Sanders said. “One time, I asked people on social media to meet me out there at Mose Hood Park to feed the homeless.”

“It was crazy. We had food and clothes for those people. I mean, we had to take stuff home and for some reason that just drove me,” Sanders said.

Drove him to what?

“That really drove me to figuring out, like, who is supposed to be in charge of doing these kinds of things? And who should be leading the charge?” Sanders wondered.

“That’s when it hit me, and I was just like, man, maybe I should run for mayor,” said Sanders, who’s making his fourth run for mayor.

Race for mayor: This is one story in a series about the 2024 race for mayor. Click here to get an overview and links to other stories in the series.

Soup for the soul

In his interview with, Sanders described the event he organized a few different times in Mose Hood Park.

“What we did was basically a soup for the soul type of situation. And it was normally during the wintertime because in the wintertime the most needed items for homeless people are socks and jackets.”

Come women also helped by bringing food.

“One thing I noticed that they needed the most was a hug – just a good hug, no matter how stinky or smelly they may have been,” Sanders said. “You have no idea how good it felt to just love somebody who needed you at that time.”

The summertime version would be hot dogs and pizza, he said.

“There’s a tennis court out there and we would lay clothes and jackets or whatever … on the tennis net so people could walk through kind of like a buffet and get whatever clothes they wanted,” Sanders said.

At these gatherings, he prayed with people and talked.

The event hasn’t been held in a while.

“COVID made things kind of weird and then the city was kind of coming down as far as health and safety stuff,” Sanders said.

“We gotta follow the rules. But I am looking at a facility where we could possibly do a soup kitchen,” he added.

Encouragement and discouragement

When Sanders was studying at Texas Tech, a professor encouraged him.

“He really encouraged me to pursue mayor or run for office,” Sanders said. “He felt like my heart was in the right place.”

Not everyone agreed.

“Everybody was like, ‘You’re crazy. You should never do that.’ Blah, blah, blah. Or, ‘You’re African American. There’s never been an African American mayor here,’” Sanders recalled.

“I absolutely looked at those people and told them. ‘I don’t care. I’m gonna run regardless because it’s in my heart.’ And it’s real. And that’s what people want,” Sanders said.

In the 2022 election Sanders earned 8.8 percent of the vote in the race for mayor. In 2018, he was a write-in candidate earning less than 4 percent.

But 2020 was different. Local elections, normally held in May, were put off until November. In a two-way race with incumbent Dan Pope, Sanders earned more than 44 percent of the vote.

“I’m not giving up, even if I don’t win this time. I’ll be back. So, it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna continue to run,” Sanders said.

Top of mind

Public safety is “top of mind,” Sanders said.

“We’ve got a lot of crime. I don’t know if you noticed, but in our newspaper and in our news, it’s almost every weekend – killing or shooting or stabbing or something like that,” Sanders said.

“I think we need to have a more strategic plan,” he said. “We’re going to go to those areas that we’ve already identified. We’re gonna put officers in those areas.”

The new patrol stations were a good idea, Sanders said. But he thinks Lubbock needs more police officers for something he calls a “Cluster Response Team.”  The idea is to have officers closer to crime hot spots.

“I’m gonna help the Police Department do some recruiting,” Sanders said.

“On the flip side of public safety, our roads are terrible. We passed the road bond. It’s taking forever,” he said of the 2022 Lubbock bond election.

He also mentioned repairs to sewer lines in the alleys.

“The city changed some policy on citizens taking care of the plumbing out to the alley,” said. A citizen might get stuck with a bill of $3,000 or more, he said. Recent local media reports put the estimates even higher.

City officials are on record saying there’s a plan for the city to reverse course – taking back the expense put on homeowners a few months ago.

Sanders is also opposed to the marijuana proposition on the May 4 ballot which would reduce enforcement of misdemeanor violations.

“I know that Black people go to jail for marijuana. I know that,” he said.

“We’re not in California. We’re in Texas. We don’t play that,” Sanders said, calling it a no-go.

“Our bodies are temples for Christ. So you shouldn’t be putting marijuana in your body anyways,” he said. But Sanders thought medical prescriptions for marijuana are different.

Facts on recent crime

Nearly every candidate in the race for mayor mentioned violent crime in Lubbock. did a little checking.

A spokesperson for the Lubbock Police Department, Kasie Davis, said, “From January 1, 2024 – March 20, 2024, the Lubbock Police Department has responded to a total of 21 shots-fired reports with injuries.”

“Of those 21 reports, 26 victims had injuries. This includes the four homicides which have occurred this year in the City of Lubbock, all of which have been shootings,” Davis said.

Personal life

Sanders enjoys playing music in a band called Element. He served in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg from 2001-2003.

He graduated from Monterey High School and Texas Tech. He currently works for Tyler Technologies as a business development representative.

He has been married 14 years and has five kids.

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Author: James Clark- James Clark is the associate editor of Lubbock Lights. He worked in radio, television and digital media for a combined total of more than 30 years. He was Director of Digital News Content at KAMC, KLBK and for nearly 10 years.