The Christmas meals given out by First Born Community Development Center come with a turkey, all the trimmings and a hug from Mrs. Carolyn.
As each person walked out of First Born Holy Church’s building on Black-Jack Grimesland Road to retrieve their box of food, Carolyn Spencer gave them a hug and a little encouragement: “Bless you, sugar.” “I’ll keep you in prayer.” “I love you.” “Merry Christmas.”
For Spencer, the annual distribution is about much more than feeding hungry people.
“You’re reaching out and you’re touching their heart,” she said. “It’s not surface. A lot of them may not have nobody to tell them they love them all week. You just tell them, ‘Baby, we love you.’”
Spencer said she knows a lot of the more than 400 people who passed through the doorway Saturday morning. She has been part of the ministry since her father started it in 1992 with a vision to feed the poor. At first, she was skeptical of how a small rural church with few members would accomplish such a feat, but she said she didn’t need to worry.
“The Lord provided,” she said.
Now, the ministry feeds hundreds of families each year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Saturday, nearly 80 volunteers packed 600 boxes that each could feed a family of eight. Most of them were distributed on-site, with people waiting both inside and outside the small church in a line to get theirs. About 165 families who couldn’t get to the location had their boxes delivered.
Each box costs about $34 and is paid for by donations and a little bit of corporate support, Taylor said.
Greenville resident Hazel Henry, one of the recipients, said she was excited to share the meal with her big family. Her daughter, Missy Davis, said the “blessing” would allow her family to focus on each other.
“We come together. We have games, we have family memories. We just sit and enjoy one another,” Davis said.
In addition to the boxes of food that will provide a holiday dinner for the families, several businesses — including Bojangles, GK Cafe, Villa Verde and Krispy Kreme — were on-site giving away food.
All of the families are pre-vetted by First Born. Robbie Taylor, who helps organize the distribution, said 85 to 90 percent of them are working people who don’t qualify for government programs but are still living in poverty.
“They’re not looking for a handout, they’re looking for a hand up,” he said.
Taylor said this year’s distribution has been especially impactful in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which caused many families to lose their homes or belongings.
Volunteer Tony Misenheimer has been helping with the distribution for about a decade and brings his whole family, including his grandchildren. He said they get more out of it than they put in.
“It’s like going to a month of Sundays at church. You feel like you’re really helping these people,” he said. “Especially when you carry the boxes to the cars and some of the people you see, you can see the pride in their eyes. It’s just very rewarding.”
For volunteer Jeff Foster, it is a reminder of how God has blessed his family.
“This time of the year when there’s so many people struggling to make it, just to come out and help a little bit and to look people in the eye and say, ‘Have hope,’ it just really means a lot,” he said.
The day wasn’t all feel-good. Taylor said the beginning of the distribution, which had volunteers out starting at 7:45 a.m., was hectic and stressful. Spencer, in between giving out hugs and shepherding people to keep the line moving, said it can be frustrating at times, but First Born keeps working to fulfill her father’s vision.
“It isn’t easy,” she said. “Sometimes you want to throw in the towel, and then you hear a voice that says, ‘But look at the people that you touch.’”
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