LUMBERTON — For the past three years, members of Greater Hope International Church have delivered thousands of meals to Robeson County residents in need on Thanksgiving Day.
What set this year apart can be summed up in one moment on Thursday, when two volunteers visited a home off of Pine Log Road.
“They said they opened the door and the young girl had on a coat because there was no heat in the house,” said the church’s pastor, Ron Barnes, “and the floor was just a plywood floor. They said they were just so excited to receive a hot meal.”
Although the church doled out about the same number of meals as years past, Thursday’s work was more fulfilling than ever, Barnes said. Hundreds of people, displaced by Hurricane Matthew, are still living in area hotels, while others have returned to damaged, gutted houses — with much more weighing on their minds than planning a Thanksgiving feast.
“This is a long-term situation, not short-term,” he said.
Volunteers on Thursday prepared and delivered 750 hot meals to local hotels, taking an additional 1,300 to homes throughout South Lumberton and West Lumberton and as far as Pembroke. Lumberton High School’s cafeteria served as their base for cooking baked chicken, rice, gravy, green beans and rolls and packing it all up for delivery. All of the food was purchased by the church.
The group teamed up with the city of Lumberton to make sure food went to those who needed it most.
“We worked hand in hand with them today to hit some of the areas, the people who were most devastated,” Barnes said.
Since the Oct. 8 storm, the church has also given away supplies to hurricane victims and is awaiting furniture donations. At Christmas, members plan to continue their tradition of giving away about 300 boxes of food that can each feed a family of four for two weeks.
Barnes said church members were joined in the kitchen Thursday by volunteers they did not know, who had learned about what the church was doing and wanted to lend a hand.
“We just put gloves on them and said ‘here’s a spoon, get dipping’,” Barnes said. “I think it’s good the community — regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic standing — has decided to come together to help others who are less fortunate.”
A few miles away a similar effort was continuing from a hotel parking lot.
Randy Lewis, who started a movement to feed Robeson residents who are trapped in hotels after Hurricane Matthew evacuations, continued his mission on Thanksgiving Day. Lewis and volunteers cooked and served hundreds of meals, gave out donated clothes and toiletries.
“Today, 600 or 700 meals for people from all over,” Lewis said.
Lewis also fed souls with singers and two local pastors Thursday. Outside of his headquarters – the Motel 6 parking lot – Lewis and volunteers had set out dozens of chairs around tables so people could eat together.
“They got to hear singing, they got to hear preaching and they sat down and got out of their rooms and talked with each other,” Lewis said.
Many of the people Lewis’ group are feeding are bed-ridden or without transportation since the flooding, so he felt it important to get people socializing as well as eating.
Volunteers came from various groups, including Americorps and BB&T.
“I just got a call asking if I needed any volunteers and I said ‘Absolutely,’” Lewis said. “BB&T sends me volunteers every day. That’s awesome.”
The food for Thanksgiving came from different places.
“I yelled on Facebook for a week for donations so we could prepare just a humongous meal,” Lewis said.
“It’s great,” said one diner named Loretta, who is staying at the Motel 6 and was eating with friends Thursday. “Mr Randy, all these church folk, these children out here helping, they are doing God’s work. Doing good work. They have saved many of these people. And how they cook a meal this good for hundreds of people is great. I hope people know the work that Mr, Randy (and others) are doing here.”
Lewis emphasized that people will still be in need after Thanksgiving Day and his efforts will continue.
This group is already preparing to serve meals again today and through January. Lewis’ next big focus, outside of feeding people daily, is Christmas.
“There are 276 kids in these hotels. These kids need a Christmas,” he said.
Anyone who wishes to support his efforts can contact him directly at 910-544-8839.
By Sarah Willets