Deontress McNeal reaches across the table to feed salad to 5-year-old Joshua Swinton.
The child already has watermelon, pizza, bread sticks and blueberry-topped cupcakes on his plate, but he’s willing to try the green stuff.
McNeal was sitting next to his significant other, Cortney Swinton, who is Joshua’s mom, and next to Joshua is Marqayvius McNeal, 7, who is son to Deontress.
The young Havelock family was enjoying lunch as part of the Summer Café program sponsored by Cherry Point United Methodist Church in Havelock. The church has been offering free lunches all summer to those in need.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Cortney Swinton. “There are so many people that are in need and this is a chance to give back to the community. We donate to other countries but we have homeless people right here.”
“It also opens people back up to the church,” Deontress McNeal said.
On Friday, the last day of the Summer Café at the church, there were about 200 meals served.
“It’s been a blessing,” said Mark Woods, pastor of Cherry Point United Methodist Church. “It says that Havelock’s a good place. Havelock is a good place to be. It really says a lot about the spirit of Havelock for us to pull together and help one another out.”
Organizer Kim Rice Smith credited volunteers and support from the Bate Foundation and CarolinaEast Foundation for the program.
“It just meets a need,” she said. “There are a lot of children that are home for the summer that need a little bit of help and a lot of families that need a little bit of help. I think the program is a success. For one thing it meets a need. This year it has grown so much. We were just not expecting the crowds that we have had this year.”
Congregation member Cherrie Sanders has been in the kitchen and serving line throughout the summer.
“God made it a success,” she said. “He gave us all the instruments to do it with. Kim put it all together. We all came together to help. We’ve cooked. We’ve made friends and we’ve had a good time with all of these kids. It just proves how good Havelock is as a community. We’ve always helped people. I think that’s our backbone. If somebody’s in need, Havelock pulls together and they do what they can do.”
A key component to the program is the end-of-the-summer backpack giveaway in which the packs are filled with necessary school supplies and handed out to needy students just prior to the first day of school.
Octavia Chisolm, of Havelock, got two backpacks for her children.
“It really means a lot to the parents and the children because a lot of people can’t afford things in life,” Chisolm said. “God works in mysterious ways. It’s a blessing.”
Vida Turner, of Havelock, got backpacks for her grandchild and a niece.
“I’m on a fixed income,” Turner said. “I don’t even have a job right now so it works out great for me. It’s one less thing I’ve got to buy. I’ve enjoyed the entire summer coming down here. The pastor is nice. They are real sweet to you. You can actually take a plate home to go, so you can’t beat it.”
Smith said the program has grown tremendously over the last three years.
“Other years we’ve given away 100 backpacks. This year we’ve given away 200,” she said. “We were serving 100 people a day. Now we’re serving 150 to 175 people a day.”
Jimmy Sanders, a member of Cherry Point United Methodist and former city mayor, also volunteers as part of the program.
“The volunteers will tell you that they have received a whole lot more than anyone else just by being here and experiencing it,” he said. “I just think it’s fascinating. It’s amazing what God can do. It started as a small mission to take care of kids on the weekends. This is our third year and as you can see it’s really grown. I have no idea how big it’s going to get. I have no idea where we are going with this, but as long as there is a need, we’re going to try to meet it.”