By Debbi Elmore
Thirty-seven years after launching The Street Ministry to help the “motel moms” and their children on south Broadway, Straw Hidaka has hung up her mantle, following doctor’s advice.
Her advocacy began by happenstance.
She was working with her husband, David, at his stock broker’s office, and took her daily coffee breaks at Don’s Café on south Broadway. One day, a mother and her child came into the café. The little girl was blue from the cold. Hidaka went out that day and bought her a coat. The child’s gratitude, when she realized the coat was really hers, deeply touched her.
“That first little girl, who pierced my heart with such a love and a need, reminded me what it was like to be cold and hungry,” Hidaka says, recalling her own impoverished childhood. “After that moment, when I hugged that little girl, I was on a mission. I knew what my calling was, to try to help others pick up the pieces of their lives and mend them back together if they could.
“As my reputation grew, people would come to my table,” she adds. “I built the ministry at Don’s Café.”
She asked for support from her church. She was given $25 in seed money and began gathering essentials. She also reached out to other churches, relating the story of her own abusive childhood and mission. Country Acres Baptist Church in Wichita and Calvary Chapel in Pretty Prairie supported her monthly. Other individuals helped her as well.
Hidaka was frugal and shopped at thrift stores. For nearly 40 years, her basement was stocked with food staples, clothes, school supplies, toys and other items she knew families needed.
Seven years into her ministry, she began working on a children’s garden in her own backyard.
“It took a good three years for those first flowers to take hold and the honeysuckle bushes to grow,” she recalls. “Slowly, stone by stone, the paths began to form.”
A Boy Scout troop working on their badges built a little bridge. “The bridge was for the children running back and forth across its frame, laughing and having so much fun,” Hidaka says.
Two other special additions were also gifts. “The Gazebo, given as a gift from Calvary Church in Pretty Prairie, and the Wishing Well, built by the same Scouts,” she says. ”The Gazebo was there for story telling about Jesus and how they would always have someone who loved them.” Every child got a coin so they could make a wish.
One cold, early morning, Hidaka was in her kitchen drinking a cup of coffee. Looking out her window, she saw a young girl sitting at the picnic table.
“I hurriedly made my way out into the garden to see who she was,” Hidaka says. “She looked at me and said, ‘Oh, I hope you don’t mind.’ She began to share her story of how I had brought her over into my garden when she was only seven years old.
Her uncle and aunt had been given custody after her mom and dad passed away. I had found them under a bridge. I saw how cold and hungry they were, so I proceeded to gather some food and blankets together. I convinced her uncle and aunt to allow me to bring this small frail, frightened little girl over to my house. That little girl and I sat as she shared all her sadness and how she missed her mommy and daddy.”
When Hidaka asked her mother’s favorite color, the answer was purple, so they spent the morning decorating the garden with purple flowers.
“I believe in my heart the placing of those purple flowers was when I decided the garden was to belong to any child’s tears or broken heart to heal and for their tears to fall,” she says. “The garden has been put together with little pieces of all these darling broken hearts through all these years.”
Hidaka says the ministry will go on without her, here and elsewhere. There are several people who are working the streets and doing their own ministries. One couple moved to Seattle, Washington and are presently doing The Street Ministry there. Another couple is working in Dallas, Texas and one very amazing person is now in New York working in the Bronx area. The police officers who are trained can check under the bridges now. Two different married couples who have been working the streets in helping others have slowed down a lot, too, because of age and health reasons. There are several churches in town that do a lot of care and ministries as well that are still reaching out to assist and help so many who are in need right here in our own home town of Wichita, Kansas.
To Hidaka, the hardest thing will be downsizing the garden.
“My heart is in the garden,” she adds. “My goal with every child who ever stepped into the garden was to touch their hearts with a love that would last them for their entire lives.”
Contact Debbi Elmore at