On a recent Thursday, some 60 men, women and children gathered around tables in the former sanctuary at Temple Baptist Church, chatting while enjoying a home-cooked pasta lunch.
On the last Thursday of every month, volunteers from the church and community donate food, time and conversation to nourish their hungry neighbors’ bodies and souls.
Before the most-recent meal, Temple Baptist youth pastor Scooter Murphy told stories about his young son and then launched seamlessly into a lesson on how Jesus cared for the overlooked.
“Jesus embraces the one whom everyone else runs away from,” Murphy said, energetically pacing the stage.
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Nancy House, the church’s secretary, started the monthly luncheon three years ago after she spotted a young woman on the side of the road on Valentine’s Day. When she returned home that day, House asked her husband to give her money instead of roses on Valentine’s Day so she could feed the hungry.
Today, that young woman from the side of the road attends the monthly luncheon with her child. House is there too, mingling with regulars, making sure the luncheon runs smoothy and trying to meet any needs she hears.
For the past 18 months, Iddie and Gwendlyn Barnes have been living in a Selma motel, an improvement from living under bridges and in their car. Iddie, 46, said his car is parked at the hotel, but he cannot afford to fix it. Most of the money he earns goes to pay for the hotel room.
“This is a relief; this week won’t be so stressful” because of the free meal, he said. “We take it one day at a time and depend on God.”
Laura Lee, 24, of Four Oaks lives in the same motel as the Barneses. Although she cannot work because of seizures, Lee enjoys spending time with her devoted fiance and young cousin. Her eyes lit up when she mentioned her recent engagement.
The monthly luncheon draws anywhere from 80 to 120 people, many from the Smithfield Rescue Mission, Austin Manor, Smithfield House and two motels. Three church vans ferry people to and from.
Cyndie McInnis of Selma has served lunch monthly since it began. “The church has shown me how to love people,” she said.
House said the luncheon is open to any who are hungry. She intentionally holds the event at the end of the month so people can come as their food stamps or paychecks dwindle.
At the end of lunch, the church raffles practical items such as gardening kits and bags of groceries. And as diners line up to board the vans, House makes sure they have whatever they need – deodorant, razors or clothes for the children.
“People come for companionship, and it builds friendships,” House said of the lunch. “There is a big need in the community for it.”
For more information or to volunteer, call House at 919-965-6746.