It’s a little past dawn, and they’re two-deep in the cemetery from one giant oak clear to the other, waiting.
The food truck is running a little late, but no one is leaving or complaining too loudly. Not in more than 50 cars and trucks on the dirt road across from Belair United Methodist Church. Not, presumably, in the corner overflow lot a quarter mile down the highway where a dozen or more vehicles wait.
“It’s important to me to get the food because I’m a very low-income person,” said Indian Land resident Rachel Stewart. “This is the only one I know of.”
Fort Mill resident Lauren Teiger, who drove Stewart to the church Monday morning, is one of many who carpooled to get bread, apples, potatoes, a watermelon each and other food at no cost.
“This is rare,” Teiger said.
The Second Harvest Mobile Food Pantry stop is a partnership between Belair and Faith Presbyterian Church. Organizer Jim Northrup, with Faith Presbyterian, organizes events with almost 30 churches throughout York County and the Indian Land area. He’s been at it a half dozen years, so he knows the people in those cars regardless of whether he met them yet.
“For every car, there may be three or four families that may be recipients of that food,” Northrup said.
It’s a stark contrast to what some might imagine at the thought of Indian Land. It’s the fastest growing area in Lancaster County. Each month it seems, county planning staff is hearing about or presenting the latest development proposal. New home projects, new businesses setting up shop. In recent years residents called for incorporation to take local control of tax revenue and land use decisions.
Yet, with all the growth, plenty of people still need enough help to sit and wait for a box truck full of food.
“It’s very important because there’s a lot of people that is on Social Security but with all the bills they have to pay, and all the sickness and the medicine and everything, any little help that you can get is always appreciated,” said Indian Land resident Shirley Wright.
Wright’s was one of the first several cars on hand an hour or so before volunteers planned to start handing out food. With few events like it, and with something as important as food, Wright wasn’t going to miss it.
“You have to eat every day,” she said.
Steve Therrell knows it. He volunteers with Belair, a church that set up a twice monthly food pantry in 2010 and hasn’t stopped. Getting 50 families, maybe 230 people total, is typical.
“We’re doing it to help the people, because there’s a lot of need in the area,” Therrell said. “We’ve had people actually come through here with shopping carts. We have a lot of veterans. We have a lot of young people, which surprises me, because they’ve lost a job or whatever.”
While announcements of new companies and their jobs show prosperity, Therrell said many don’t consider the impact of companies downsizing or moving to another area. Leaving people, even if only for a little while, in need. Some get food and when they get back on their feet, become volunteers and donors for others. Others, including many seniors, are regulars.
The mobile food pantries ask about residency and income, but they haven’t turned anyone away. They don’t require tax forms. Occasionally someone my drive up in a nice enough car to wonder, but Northrup said he isn’t concerned whether people are there because they need or just want food.
“That’s not up to us,” Northrup said. “That’s up to them. That’s not mine to question.”
He spent more than 30 years in law enforcement so he knows there are people in need, and people who might look to take advantage where they can.
“I guarantee you there are more people that need it than people taking advantage,” Northrup said.
Many seniors come. Parents have come from dropping their children off at school. People have walked over from a nearby mobile home park. Some say they have no food at home. Volunteers have been at it long enough to anticipate. They know pantries at the end of the month don’t do as well because, at least in part, people are out of gas money by then.
Saving on gas is a big deal. Which is how Northrup knows each car not only has a story, but likely more than one family depending on its contents once it returns.
Just about the only detail volunteers can’t anticipate is what they’ll be handing out once recipients pull their cars across the highway.
“You never know what’s coming on the truck,” Northrup said. “We’ve had watermelons. We’ve had cabbage. You name it.”
Sometimes it’s frozen food. Sometimes candy leftover from the most recent holiday. Because Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina relies on donations, churches only pitch in to pay what it costs for a driver and delivery. Each event draws not just recipients, but volunteers from a variety of churches.
“We’re bringing people together,” said Krysia McCurdy with Faith Presbyterian.
Her church is its own Indian Land success story. It’s been around about a decade, but meets in a recreation center. They didn’t have space when Northrup got the bug for hosting mobile food pantries, so they found and partnered with Belair. Groups say the events couldn’t go on without one another. Even as Faith Presbyterian holds its inaugural service in its own building Sunday morning.
Another thriving group in a thriving area, but members who know what it is to need, and who want to help.
“Indian Land has a lot more needs that people realize,” McCurdy said.
And plenty of people who are glad someone realizes it.
“I’m glad that the churches and the Lord can help,” Wright said.