ROCKINGHAM — One year ago in June, God led Paul McCarthy to begin a food ministry by placing a special messenger in his path, he said, because that’s how God works — “…by putting the right people in your path, right when they’re supposed to be there.”
The Loaves and Fishes Ministry of the Pee Dee, as it eventually was named, had its humble beginning when a man asked McCarthy for water for his homeless friends.
“I was attending a church in Hamlet, and a gentleman walked in just when the service was about over,” McCarthy said. “And he was drunk, and he sat down in a pew drooling and mumbling. The preacher’s wife and the preacher went over and sat with him, and when the service was done they went out back and I left the church building and went out and got in my truck.”
McCarthy said he was on the verge of driving off when an urgent thought dawned on him.
“As I was sitting in my truck — and having been a drunk, and knowing drunks can be some nasty people sometimes — I felt the Lord leading me to go back in and check on the preacher and his wife,” he said. “But that wasn’t the real reason He wanted me to go back in there. The preacher and his wife were fine.”
Still, he said, God knew what it took to prompt McCarthy to go back, and He had a plan — even if it wasn’t what McCarthy had in mind.
“This dude’s name was Larry. And Larry had a box of food they’d made for him, and the reason I was there was to carry the box of food home for Larry and for Larry to get involved in my life,” he said. “And he did. Larry made the profession that he wanted to get off the alcohol, he knew it was killing him. And by that time I’d been sober, with the Lord’s help, for about a year. I thought, ‘Well, here’s a brother and he needs my help.’ So I took him in, and he lived with me for about three months, came off the alcohol.”
But Larry’s life remained unstable after he went back out on his own, according to McCarthy.
“Larry’s one of the cave dwellers I’ve talked about, who may have a roof over his head, may have a place to stay — but he might not have running water next month, or might not have heating or air conditioning next week,” he explained. “I had never come across something like that in my upbringing, the poverty level that Larry was living in. But Larry asked us, because it was as hot as it is now and he had concern for his fellows that live under the bridge in Rockingham, he said, ‘Paul, it’s going to be hot. They’re going to need some water. They need some water. Can we go see ‘em?”
McCarthy said they went daily to the group under the bridge, bringing ice and water.
“Larry was our catalyst for meeting up with the people under the bridge,” he said. “And about three weeks, maybe a month into it Karen (Jacobs) was with me and we starting troopin’ and just walking the tracks with ice and water.”
He said at first they had to learn where the homeless were gathering by striking out on foot and hoping for the best.
“We didn’t know where everybody in Rockingham lived, all of the outdoor folks,” he explained. “We trooped the tracks down behind Biscuitville and all that, but the congregation was always at the (U.S.) 220 bridge. A month into it, somebody asked if I had anything to eat. And I said, ‘I don’t have anything to eat, but I’ll be back.”
McCarthy isn’t sure how long it was after that encounter before he showed up with food, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple of days.
“I came back, and there was about a half-dozen men and women staying under the bridge,” he said. “I visited the bridge and stayed until they passed out, and started feeding about six or eight people and then when our good friend Eric (a local homeless man) got out of jail, it took us about a week of feeling each other out. He began to point me to others.”
Eric referred him to needy people living in East Rockingham, he said. To people who were either homeless or “couch surfing” in numerous homes. And those people referred him to more still — including elderly shut-ins living on less than $1,000 a month — which they often exhausted on the cost of prescription medications, rent or mortgage payments and utilities. And those people referred him to young women with children — with and without substance abuse or domestic violence issues.
McCarthy wanted to help them all. Now, Loaves and Fishes Food Ministry of the Pee Dee feeds more than 100 people twice a week. And the food he brings is hot, prepared “with love” by him and Jacobs and others who help. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they start making their rounds shortly after 3 p.m., delivering meals directly to people’s homes from the porches of Richmond County to “The Pit” — a place where the homeless huddle together behind an abandoned fueling station off Mill Road.
Never mind that “The Pit” is surrounded by empty beer cans, or that those dwelling there sleep on dusty cardboard pallets on the dirt, or that they refuse to change — that they’ve either tried (and failed) to overcome addiction, or just can’t be bothered to. Never mind that some of them don’t really even want to be here.
One of the homeless at “The Pit,” a shirtless, bearded, gaunt man called Cricket, thanked McCarthy and Jacobs for bringing the hot meals Friday afternoon but turned his down.
“If I eat it, it’s just gonna end up over there,” he said, pointing at the woods. “I’ll just puke it up.”
Cricket, who appeared to be in his 60s, said it’s “too late” for him, as tears welled in his light-brown eyes.
“I can’t eat no more,” he said. “I can’t change the world. There’s so much wrong in the world and I can’t make anybody change. It won’t last. I’m going to die, but at least I won’t have to watch it happen.”
McCarthy said he understands the world can make men and women hopeless, but he also trusts that God’s hand is in everything.
“There are the ones who will go for help,” he said. “But these aren’t the ‘industrialized homeless.’ These are my people. Well, God’s people, but they’re my people, too.”
The ministry has a need for someone who can make enough dessert, such as cookies or brownies, for about 100 people who are served on Tuesdays, McCarthy said.
“We have this one very special lady at First Baptist of Rockingham, who wishes to remain anonymous,” he said. “She bakes homemade cookies for them every Friday. We’d love to have someone do that for Tuesdays.”
He also said the ministry is welcoming volunteers, and that anyone who feels led by the Lord can call 910-434-6409.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.