Two churches in North Carolina are using food to minister in unique ways.
Denver Wesleyan Church (DWC), located in the town of Denver, and HopeCity, located in Winston-Salem, are two different churches with two different locations in the North Carolina West District. One church is small, the other large. Both are using their talents, time and resources to have a big impact in their respective communities.
DWC directs Lake Norman Food Mission, which has “grown exponentially from a tiny closet for church families in need to 30,000-40,000 pounds of food monthly for hundreds of people in and around [the] community.” The mission partners with Second Harvest Food Bank.
“We started in a small closet and had church attenders bring in canned goods to help other congregants that needed help, just a few in number,” said Rev. Johnny Houser, pastor of DWC who began serving there in 1994.
Located on the shores of Lake Norman on the outskirts of Charlotte, the church of around 50 attendees (30 in person and 10-15 online) depends on volunteers from area churches to help serve. A blue-collar community, most of Denver’s residents commute to work in Charlotte or at the nearby Duke Energy nuclear plant.
The church has been equipped with shelving, refrigerators and freezers for food storage. Besides the food donated through Second Harvest, volunteers also pick up food from six local grocery stores, often picking up food from at least one location every day of the week.
“We currently give out food every Monday, and Wednesday, along with the first and third Friday and second Saturday of each month,” said Kathy Houser, who serves with her husband. “We make appointments with families to come and receive around 60-90 lbs. of a variety of food each month. Each family receives frozen meat, bread, sweets, produce, deli and canned goods.”
This year, during COVID-19, the Housers said they’ve “seen a dramatic increase of the amount of food we are giving away.” Grants received from Food Lion, Spectrum and Duke Energy have allowed them the opportunity to “get more food out into the community because of so many people being unemployed.”
One uniqueness to this ministry involves time spent with families receiving food. Until COVID-19, each family met with a counselor. Counselors asked families about their needs and prayed with them.
“We now have them stay in the car until their turn comes, said Kathy. “We then allow them to come in and ‘shop’ for produce and other items they may need (toiletries, canned goods, etc.) that are in addition to the shopping cart we fill for them. We have a condensed conversation and prayer time with each.”
Kathy said families would often report answers to prayer when they visited the food mission, and that personal contact is a piece of their ministry they hope can return to someday.
“This ministry is one that God brought to us, not one that we decided to start on our own,” said Rev. Houser. “God has blessed it greatly. We are a small group of believers, but I think that is the way God likes it right now, because he gets more glory. If Jesus can take a couple loaves of bread and a couple of fish and feed thousands, he can also use a handful of people to feed thousands today. I hope this will be an encouragement to smaller churches knowing that God can use you. You just have to be willing to let him lead.”
Further north is HopeCity. The church of 500 is using donated meals and a food truck to communicate the gospel in impoverished neighborhoods.
Ten years ago, lead pastor, Rev. Scott Newton, began serving hotdogs with ketchup, mustard and bottled water in the “most dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods” of nearby High Point out of his car trunk. Another person joined him in this endeavor, which the duo engaged in for about six months.
In the years that followed and before the food truck became a reality, Newton and a team of volunteers continued to go to those neighborhoods and give away foods (hot dogs or pizza) as part of the outreach ministry.
In 2019, a donor gave the church a food truck and, with that addition, the HOPE TRUCK FOOD CO. was born. The opportunities to minister via a food truck led the church to form the HOPE TRUCK FOOD CO., which is considered the primary outreach ministry of the church. Those who serve in the foot truck serve in many ways — cooking or handing out food, cleaning the truck, doing dishes. This ministry endeavor is a total team effort.
HopeCity staff and volunteers continue to visit some of Winston-Salem’s poorest neighborhoods and serve chicken nuggets, French fries, burgers, nachos, desserts, etc., from the truck. Before COVID, the food truck team served about 300 meals, as it visited neighborhoods twice a month. Even with the pandemic, the amount of served food has increased, with approximately 1,000 meals being given per month. The truck operates on a donation basis: people can give what they can afford to pay for a meal, and if they cannot, it’s free.
“We live in a world full of hungry people, whether physically hungry or spiritually hungry,” said Jamie Page, executive director of HopeCity. “The food truck allows us to go into our community without our community having to come to us. HOPE TRUCK FOOD CO. provides hope, joy and love through generosity, community and quality food, regardless of means.”
As COVID hit, the team set up the truck at a local elementary school down the street from the church and gave free lunches or dinners to kids who were used to relying on school food as their daily source of nourishment. The truck continues to give free meals to students.
A donation program though HopeCity also assists and encourages area families. COVID has increased need: more than 800 meals were given away in this September. Since the fall of 2019, more than 7,000 meals have been gifted to residents. Through donations of food and funds, the church is also hosting “give-back” events.
“A ‘give-back’ event is an event where we go to an underprivileged community or a specific location (such as a police station or school) with the express intention of blessing them with free food,” said Page.
The team places banners announcing free food at the events to clearly communicate their reason for being there. Sometimes, the team will load up the truck with ice cream and all of the trimmings and drive through inner-city neighborhoods to bring a little joy and smiles to residents.
Page said they’ve seen God provide the food and finances to feed folks and it has “grown our faith.”
Even in the midst of COVID, the available finances increased significantly based on donations and the team had more money than ever to fund give-back events. Page said, “It was a true lesson in faith and obedience. We felt as though God was challenging us to live out Proverbs 3:5-6 and we have seen him pour out his blessings as a result of our obedience to him.”
“With each meal given away, we are also able to share hope with others,” said Newton. “Hope Truck is used to help fight hunger in our region — still considered one of the most food insecure areas in the nation. Those who buy a meal can feel good in the knowledge that they are helping meet the needs of others in our local communities.”
HOPE TRUCK FOOD CO. envisions operating a fleet of food trucks across North Carolina and into other areas in the Southeast U.S. As they trust God with this vision, they know he will continue to lead and provide according to his will.