‘It just came to me’: Community Cafe owner finds new way to feed the hungry in York County
More people in need of a hot meal — in more places all across York County — are going to get them.
All because of a seemingly chance encounter at a shared storage business, and a handful of determined people.
A food truck owned, but seldom used, by Rock Hill businessman Jeff Miller attracted the attention of Community Cafe leaders searching for a way to get more free, hot meals each week to more people in York County.
“When I heard the story,” Miller said, “I knew it needed to go there so the truck could do a lot of good.”
Three Cafe sites in Lake Wylie and Fort Mill prepare, serve and at times deliver about 1,200 free meals each week.
“We deliver food to people in need,” said head chef Don Murfin. “Because we love people, and that’s what we’re putting on the side of the truck. We’re really serving love more than anything else.”
The cafe began in Lake Wylie back in early 2010. Leaders at River Hills Community Church had an idea, at a time when the economy still was recovering from the 2008 recession, to start a cafe where people nearby could gather for a free meal whether they could afford to pay or not.
The cafe has grown, adding, and at times losing, sites. It now operates out of three churches — Lake Wylie Lutheran, Lake Wylie Christian, Sisk Memorial Baptist — in Lake Wylie and Fort Mill.
The cafe and Murfin receive awards almost as often as they do food, supplies and volunteer time from local residents and businesses. PBS Charlotte tabbed them Community Give Back winners in its contest for area service organizations. AARP presented Murfin its Andrus Award for service. In 2017, Murfin won the top honor given by the governor in South Carolina for community service, the Order of the Silver Crescent.
Yet Murfin is always one to stir rather than sit back and watch the pot.
For the past couple of years he and leaders talked through a “big hairy audacious goal” of getting a food truck. For all the meals his cafe sites serve, they’re limited by how many people can get to them. They can deliver meals nearby, but can’t travel far working under the same health department rules as restaurants.
The Cafe needed a way to keep the soup hot and the chicken salad sandwich cold, longer.
“We don’t want to deliver anything that people can get sick from,” Murfin said.
The Cafe found a truck in Louisiana that leaders thought might work. But they wanted something closer. At some point someone from the cafe realized there was a food truck parked at a storage site. She asked about it.
“I think I might have not even known what she was talking about,” Miller said.
His company, HardyHarris Marketing, works in experiential marketing. Miller works with dozens of corporate brands for special events and promotions. His company puts logos on football helmets. There’s the giant truck that looks like the world’s largest grocery cart. One summer, Miller wrapped a food truck with a corporate logo and headed out for events.
When fall arrived, he parked it.
“I’m glad it’s getting used,” he said. “We kind of had it on the back burner.”
Murfin handed over the check for the food truck Jan. 8. He estimates the truck can add 500 or so deliveries every week.
“It could be substantially more than that,” he said.
Already there are six locations identified. The Paradise and Forest Ridge areas in Fort Mill, the Carowinds area, Blackmon Road and other parts of Rock Hill all will see the truck.
The Community Cafe food truck made its first delivery Thursday afternoon in Rock Hill’s Catawba Terrace community. Richmond Drive Elementary school kids flocked to the truck after school to get free soup, sandwiches and pints of ice cream.
Only the Paradise community of Fort Mill already gets some delivery service from the Cafe, among places the truck routinely will visit.
“Every place we go other than that will be a new location,” Murfin said.
It took a couple of years planning, organizing the fundraising to get the food truck. Already he’s thinking of a three-year goal to find and secure a place for the Cafe sites to cook. While churches are critical partners, kitchens and equipment designed for the typical Wednesday night prayer gathering dinner don’t always have everything needed to serve thousands of meals each week.
“It’s a struggle,” Murfin said. “It just makes a lot of sense to get all the capacity we need.”
He envisions a professional grade kitchen somewhere that could cook large quantities, then deliver it to the Cafe sites where guests can come in and eat together. It helps he has a food truck to get the food there. Which, if ever so briefly, is something Murfin will pause to celebrate before setting off on another adventure.
“Thank you Jesus for guiding us through this process,” Murfin said.