Standing in the Smithfield Progressive Men’s Club building, Rachel Ayers began to pray.
It was late December, only a few weeks before she was to open the first Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Mobile Market in Johnston County, and she didn’t have a space. The doors at the Men’s Club building in Smithfield were too small to host the market, Ayers said, and she didn’t know where else to look.
But while she was standing there, praying, her phone rang. It was Tina Lee, a local resident who helped Ayers start her own nonprofit a couple of years ago.
Lee informed Ayers that the pastors at Temple Baptist Church in Selma wanted to meet with her. The pastors and their congregation were interested in hosting the market.
“I just started jumping all around,” Ayers said.
A few weeks later, on Jan. 8, more than 180 needy residents stopped at the church to shop at the market, one of several the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle operates throughout the Triangle.
The food taken from the market that day helped feed more than 600 people, according to the Food Shuttle. That number includes 25 sick or shut-in residents who received food-box deliveries from volunteers.
Temple Baptist is used to feeding the community. For the past three years, the church has served a hot meal to families once a month through its Heart for the Hungry program. With the introduction of the mobile market, the church is ending its monthly hot meal. Heart for the Hungry was successful, but the monthly mobile market can reach many more families, said Nancy House, the church’s secretary, who coordinates the market with Ayers.
“Instead of feeding people once a month, we can give them enough food to last a month,” House said.
To prepare for the market, held in the children’s worship center, volunteers disassemble everything in the front and cover the floor in plastic. They set up tables that hold the fruits, vegetables, bottled water, canned foods, candy and other items the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle brings.
Participants can start taking a number at 11 a.m.; the shopping lasts from 2 to 3 p.m.
For the first mobile market, Edwards IGA in Smithfield donated grocery carts to the needy so they wouldn’t have to lug heavy food bags home. Another Smithfield business, Anran Properties, donated aprons for volunteers and food boxes for the sick and shut-in residents.
Ayers coordinates programs for the needy through her Smithfield-based nonprofit, Helping and Healing Hearts. She started planning the mobile market after hearing about the Food Shuttle’s other programs. She said she reached out to the group last fall about hosting a market in Johnston County.
The Food Shuttle agreed, and Ayers visited an existing market in Raleigh to train.
“It was so exciting, and I had never seen a place where participants can shop for free,” Ayers said.
Lee, who has worked with Ayers and is a member of Temple Baptist, contacted the church’s worship pastor, the Rev. Thomas Parker, about the need for a space to host the mobile market.
Parker said he and the other pastors met with Ayers, and “it clicked from the get-go.”
“Temple has a heart for the community,” Parker said. “We are about outreach big time, and Rachel had the connections with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.”
Food Shuttle staff say that unlike some other food pantries and assistance programs, which typically require lots of paperwork and long lines, the mobile markets are similar to a neighborhood farmers’ market.
Ayers said anyone is welcome at the market, which is held the second Thursday of each month. The next is on Thursday, Feb. 12.