In the halls of Lake Wylie Lutheran Church, volunteers walk around with more food in their arms than they can carry. Bags of cheese and meat sandwiches freshly prepared in the church kitchen, each sealed in a brown bag with a lovingly crafted note, are stacked outside the fellowship hall next to bulk-sized plastic containers of cold bottled water.
For the people who pull these donated items together on the second Sunday of every month, collecting them takes legwork and some amount of money, but it’s not really anything worshipers at Lake Wylie Lutheran can’t do without.
Over on Blackmon Road, where all those items are headed later on Sunday, the water bottles are the only thing entire families have to keep cool in old mobile homes with no air conditioning. Some don’t have refrigerators to keep the food cool, and the portajohns in the yard testify to the fact many residents make do without running water or indoor plumbing.
The church team that goes out and helps get these people something to eat is a rotating component of the multi-church Feed the Hungry program. A dozen volunteers meet prior to the Sunday service to put 150 sandwich meals together, and then one car goes out after church piled with edibles to be delivered door-to-door.
“We go out the second Sunday of each month,” said Ken Wheatley, one of four drivers at Lake Wylie Lutheran who take turns delivering the meals each quarter on their church’s Sunday.
Wheatley’s wife, Roxie, chairs the church’s social concerns ministry, and he’s been delivering to the Blackmon Road area for about three years.
“It’s a really bad situation there,” he said. “We find new people because while we’re there someone will say ‘The people in that house need help.’ ”
Wheatley was joined on this month’s delivery run by Bill and Jane West, who were visiting the unpaved street south of Albright Road for the first time.
“It’s humbling to know how some people live,” Bill West said. “We’ve been on mission trips to Central America, and this is similar to what you would see there.”
Give and receive
Jen Duey makes volunteering a family affair. Inside the church at the intersection of Gold Hill Road and S.C. 160, she puts a string of sandwiches together in assembly-line fashion, standing next to husband, Joe, and their three children – Grace, 10, Joseph, 7, and Noah, 5 – each of them doing the same.
“We just started when we knew the kids were old enough not to cause problems,” she said.
But the family also wanted to demonstrate a way to care for the less fortunate.
“We wanted something that they could get involved with now that they’re old enough to understand what we’re doing and why, especially this one,” she said, indicating oldest daughter Grace working beside her.
“They’re learning to give back where we can,” Duey said, before reminding her younger son not to eat the oatmeal cream pies they pack for dessert.
Helen Whitlock appreciates their generosity. She shares a mobile home on Blackmon with her mother, daughter and five young grandchildren, all between the ages of 1 and 6. With no air conditioning in the home, she carried arm loads of perspiring water bottles and sandwich bags away from the church members’ car.
“All we have is some bottled water and a fan” to keep cool in temperatures above 90 degrees, she said.
Like many of the other people along this stretch of road, Whitlock is a long-time resident. She grew up on Blackmon, where her cousin lives in a mobile unit across from hers and a sister stays on the side street of Joe Louis Boulevard.
“I’ve been here since ’63,” she said, holding her youngest, diaper-clad grandson on the stoop. “We came from the country near Lesslie, and we’ve been in this same place (since).”
Whitlock said she’s tried to get a window-mounted air conditioning unit for her home, but decided it was “too much red tape” to get a donated one. What she really needs, she says, is a car, so she won’t have to borrow her sister’s to get around town.
Wheatley has grown familiar with the needs of the residents here, many of whom he knows only by their first names.
“Some of them are disabled,” he said. “One lady is on an oxygen tank, and when you take it up to the door, she’ll say ‘bring it in,’ because they can’t get up to get to the door.”
At certain homes, he makes sure they take enough food to last the week, “because we know they need it.”
Many of the homes the care team passes are deserted now. Wheatley used to deliver to several who have passed away, and three families who once shared a single roof moved away as soon as they got enough money together to do so. The area’s population has dwindled over time from well over 100 to between 35 and 75 today.
In time, maybe the Lutherans won’t have any more stops to make on Blackmon. But after Wheatley and the Wests make their last regular stop Sunday, they drive on to deliver the remaining meals to other needy homes elsewhere.
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062