Barbara Dewberry doesn’t know how to do any different.
She grew up in a household where her mother refused to let people go hungry.
“If you didn’t have any food, you came to my mom’s house for dinner,” said Dewberry, 69, of Raleigh.
And so, Dewberry and her husband, Dusty, have turned his car detail shop, Dusty’s Service Center, which has operated at the corner of West and Lenoir streets south of downtown since the 1980s, into an informal social service agency for this predominantly African-American neighborhood between downtown Raleigh and Boylan Heights.
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Each Friday, Dewberry and friends pack up meals to be delivered to about 45 seniors across southeast Raleigh. People in the know wander in after those meals are packed to grab a to-go plate of leftovers – no questions asked. Any remaining food is taken down the street to a grandfather with two dozen grandchildren who often are visiting. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, the couple cooks a feast at the shop for friends and neighbors.
Dusty’s shop — as the epicenter of those good works — is coming to an end March 1.
Two years ago, developer James A. Goodnight bought the building where Dusty’s is located and plans to remodel the site for a new tenant. Goodnight said Friday that his company has looked for a new location for the Dewberrys’ shop but has been unable to find anything downtown in the couple’s price range without displacing someone else. He noted that the couple has benefited from some free rent since he closed on the building.
Goodnight’s project isn’t the only one changing this corner of downtown Raleigh. A New York development company has started construction on a 12-unit townhouse project across the street from Dusty’s. A block away, the same company wants to build 611 West South, a condominium project that would include 42 units ranging in price from nearly $300,000 to $600,000.
Before Martin Luther King and Western boulevards cut through this part of town, it was an historically black neighborhood with churches, restaurants, a nightclub and a car dealership, explained community activist Octavia Rainey.
“Before the city came and started chopping things up, South Street was a main artery of black Raleigh,” she said.
The Dewberrys’ shop has been a linchpin for the community that remains.
Without the Dewberrys, Rainey said, “That’s going to be a huge void in that area. With Barbara and Dusty gone, they know they are going to be gone, too.”
The Dewberrys, who started dating in the 10th grade at the segregated Ligon High School, have been married for more than 50 years. Dusty ran the shop, and Barbara worked as a bus driver for Wake Opportunities and later for Nortel. When Barbara was at the shop, which has a small convenience store, she said she looked out for the homeless in the area, feeding them when they were hungry.
Dusty has a smoker, a grill and deep fryer at the shop. Whenever he got a hankering, he’d fry up some chicken or fish and share with everyone who was there. “We like to eat,” Dusty said.
“When they fed people, it wasn’t just feeding the homeless,” Rainey said. “It was more of a celebration. Everybody was on equal footing.”
Dusty, who is used to going to work everyday, isn’t quite sure how he’ll adjust to the upcoming change.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get up and cannot come to the shop,” he said.
Until then, the Dewberrys are carrying on. On Friday, Barbara Dewberry and three other women packed up to-go containers of donated barbecue, meatballs, salad, chicken, rolls and desserts for the Cheer Basket Fellowship. Larry Graham, their friend and classmate, started the charity. It, too, will have to find a new place to assemble meals.
And Dusty is planning one last feast for the neighborhood on the afternoon of Feb. 24.
Larry Darnell Chapman is just one of many who will miss the feasts. He’s the grandfather who lives a few doors down from the shop and has plenty of grandchildren to feed. Chapman said Barbara Dewberry understood the need and just sent food down every Friday. She has even sent clothes and toys, Chapman said. Any leftovers were sent home with the grandchildren when their parents picked them at night.
“She’s been a wonderful person to me,” Chapman said Friday. “None of it ever went to waste.”
Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.