Love and mercy are on the menu on N.C. 5 between Aberdeen and Pinehurst. “This is St. Paul’s, and street ministry is on the move. It’s God’s plan, not ours,” says Valerie Washington, a church volunteer whose passion is helping people in need.
In the area of Jackson Hamlet some drivers slow down on Fridays for a reason other than the 35 mph speed limit as they see smoke, and many are stopping to taste what’s on the grill. All the smoke is for a good cause.
“We are raising money to assist the needy,” says Leo Thomas, a volunteer cook for St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson Hamlet. The grilling was “started to help families in need. We’ve been doing this for about two years,” he says. “The need is so great this year.”
The cooking is “part of layman’s league for the pastor. It benefits our benevolent fund,” he says. “The community has so many different needs, such as paying light bills. We try to help wherever we can.”
Thomas says the church used its grill proceeds last winter to provide complete turkey dinners to 68 families at Christmas in a combined effort with Mosaic Ministries in Seven Lakes and Greater Harvest in Midway. In addition, the money raised is used to purchase gift cards for families in need, says Anthony “Tony” Washington, an associate pastor at the church -- and Valerie’s husband.
More Than Chicken
The menu on Fridays usually features barbecued chicken and sometimes fish with sides that can include cabbage, cole slaw, baked beans and green beans. A plate is topped off with a slice of cake and drink. On some Fridays, the smoke is a little thicker because the volunteers are barbecuing ribs. The grill operation usually begins at 10 in the morning.
“We start to serve at 11 and stay until we sell out, usually by 3 pm. We always hope to sell 100-plus plates,” says Thomas. The church even offers plates free to law enforcement officers and a discount for the military, “but they usually give us donations,” Tony Washington says.
Ministry, Food and Education
Valerie Washington’s street ministry vision is influenced by her experience in New Jersey. “I came from a 3,000-member church in Atlantic City where street ministry and outreach are very important,” she says. “Feeding the homeless is really important in a large city. We brought that here with us. God sent us and has placed us in this path to minister.”
A regular volunteer at St. Paul’s roadside grill who loves barbecued chicken, she confesses, however, that her favorite dish is chicken and dumplings made by her grandmother. “It’s so good – an original Southern dish. My mom also made it for our family.”
Serving food for her church is only a part of what keeps her busy. She is still celebrating receiving a GED in June at Sandhills Community College. “I’ve been fighting for my diploma for 20 years,” she says. It took me a long time. The tutors at the college brought me a long way. I work at Wal-Mart, and going to school after work was a lot of pressure.”
She identified one tutor at SCC for special praise. “Mrs. Wanda Sweeney is one of the kindest, most courteous and most supportive persons,” says Valerie Washington. “She’s forever in her heart. I love her. They even gave me a party because I kept coming back, persevered and keep on going. I learned a lot at Sandhills Community College,” she says. She now plans to earn a cosmetology degree.
Even with a full-time job and additional stress as a student, she is typical of the St. Paul’s congregation who find time to enrich the community and enjoys each other’s fellowship when they work together on a ministry project.
Ministry and Military
St. Paul’s is a vital member of the area, says Tony Washington, who operates the grill when he’s not on duty with the Army. “The church is very family-oriented and has a membership of about 100,” says the Army noncommissioned officer, who was born in Pinehurst and has served around the world. “I’ve completed two tours in Iraq with one more overseas assignment to go, probably in Afghanistan.”
He says as he thinks of retirement from the military in about two years. Until then Thomas says he’ll continue to train soldiers for Iraq and Afghanistan. “My favorite Bible verses are from the 23rd Psalm because of where I go and the work that I do,” says the minister and soldier. “It’s very appropriate for me.”
Grilling is not a new activity for Washington, who says that he was about 11 years old when he handled a grill the first time while he was living in Texas. “In the South the young ones watch the grill. They are taught at a young age,” he says. Whether he’s barbecuing for the Lord or family and friends, he grills in the tradition-honored style of the South -- an open flame not fueled by propane. “Barbecue is very sacred,” he says with a smile as he mentions the dos and don’ts of barbecuing. “I never use propane. I always cook with wood and Kingsford charcoal.”
The grill mission is a community effort, and St. Paul’s receives a lot of local support. Food Lion on N.C. 5 in Aberdeen “is one of our biggest supporters,” says Thomas. The store often “donates cake and drink and frequently gives gift cards, up to $50 depending on the need.” Other food is bought locally. “We buy our fish at Aberdeen Produce. When we serve ribs, we get them from Aberdeen Packing that sells to us at cost,” says Thomas. Some items are also provided by other community friends and church members.
In addition to serving the Lord, Tony Washington dreams of opening his own ribs restaurant and cooking full-time when he retires from the Army. “I definitely want to be on Highway 5. I’d like to have it between Aberdeen and Pinehurst. We have a commitment to this community,” he says.
Note: This posting is a slightly edited version of an article published originally in The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC) on November 21, 2010 (pages C1 and C6).