Hidden Hometown Heroes: His Daily Bread: Feeding the Hungry in Harnett County

by Crissy Neville

It’s a Tuesday night in the small Harnett County town of Coats and Shirley Allen is stirring her simmering dish, eyeing the pot like a watchful mother. Gale Penny and Dottie Tyndall, her chosen sidekicks, are flitting around the room like the social butterflies they are, greeting guests, setting places at the table, hugging necks. The line outside starts to dwindle as men, women and children alike file into the homey dining room located inside the Coats Community Center. Aromas beckon. Smiles greet. Dinner is served. Such activity is par for the course at His Daily Bread Community Ministries where visitors are welcomed guests and no one is turned away. 

The three-woman team set out back in 2012 to do a God-sized thing in their little town: Feed the children. The less fortunate. The hungry. Anyone in need of a hand up, not a handout, in their view. 

Their main goal then and now is to lighten the load of others in need of help, with no questions asked. They do not need a name, a number, an income level or an address. 

“We do not care about any of that,” said Penny, the ministry vice-president. “We just need to know how many came to eat and if there are more back at home. Do they need some groceries to take with before they go? That is all we want to know.”

His Daily Bread has grown in size and morphed in form in its 7 years in operation, but remains true to its mission to feed the folks in their community who are in need, and nourish their souls, too. One plate at a time.

Penny and Allen talked with Outreach NC’s Crissy Neville recently to discuss this ministry that not only matters so much to them but to countless others, too. 

Crissy Neville: Your team has done a tremendous thing here in Coats. How did you get started?

Gale Penny: We started in 2011 after we heard some children in Vacation Bible School at our church talking about being hungry. Shirley’s granddaughter came home from VBS and told her how a young boy was crying because he was hungry. This broke Shirley’s heart and spurred us into action. I had been volunteering at a feeding program in Raleigh for the homeless and had fallen in love with feeding people and listening to their stories. After talking to Shirley, I decided I wanted to do something to help people here at home more than anywhere else. 

Shirley Allen: What my granddaughter told me I considered a sign from God. I knew I was meant to open a soup kitchen in Coats. I had been yearning to do this for years after hearing how a co-worker and her son had started such a ministry at their church. I went to my pastor and he gave me the go-ahead to open our doors on November 15, 2011, at my church, Coats Methodist. I am the president of our board.

CN: Does your church sponsor His Daily Bread? Who helps you with the program?

GP: His Daily Bread is not directly related to any church even though Coats UMC was our host, at first. We have since moved to Coats Community Center in order to rent a larger space. The ministry is a community effort; different denominations of churches come and serve, as well as college and youth groups, local businesses, and even a restaurant owner who caters a meal monthly so we do not cook that night. We are blessed with help but can always use more volunteers. A group may rotate off the schedule opening a need for another group to step in.

SA: Gale, Dottie and I could never do this without our faithful helpers. We are all retired and this is volunteer work for us, but it takes a village to do this mission. 

CN:Who do you help?

SA: We primarily help feed shut-ins and the elderly, and we also serve people who are in need of a hot meal and companionship. However, our mission is to feed anyone
who comes to our door. We have had families, the homeless, and people of all ages. No one is turned away. We can offer them one meal a week and we can send groceries for another meal. 

GP: We always have a few new ones, though. We miss those that used to come but are not with us any longer, but we pray that that is because they have bettered themselves with employment or a move. This has happened a lot this year with our country’s improved economy. 

CN: Do you have to meet any federal or state guidelines for your feeding program?

GP: We work in conjunction with the North Carolina food bank, where we pay 3 cents per lb. for the food we pick up weekly, but the only information the state needs is how many are in the home. In numbers served, we have averaged from 24 a night on the low side, when we were first starting out, to 200 on the high side. We served 155 plates last night and 60 of those were take-out deliveries to locals who are shut-in, disabled or unable to drive at night. 

CN: The meals you serve are free, so what means do you have of raising money for the food and rent?

GP: We have regular contributors who donate towards our rent and insurance, and donors in-kind who bring supplies and food to us. 

Every time we have a need God sends us the right person at the right time. 

For example, right after we moved up to the community center the stove broke and it was not two hours after word got out that somebody drove up with a brand new stove. Next, the freezer went out and the man who helped with the stove told a friend, who in turn brought us a new one within a week. We have never gone without. 

CN: Do you hold fundraisers to supplement the help received from donors?

GP: We hold a certified race and kids’ fun run each year on Super Bowl weekend. We call it the SOUPER BOWL 5K and all the participants receive a bowl of soup at the end. We have done this for 7 years now and each year we have had better sponsors and bigger outcomes. It is totally a God thing because from this one fundraiser we get enough funding to support the food we buy all year. Shirley also writes grants and that funding fills in any financial gaps. 

CN: Tell me about your meals. Feeding programs like yours are called “soup kitchens” but I know you serve a lot more than that. 

SA:  I am the cook so I think our food is pretty good; people seem to like it. It is home-cooked, good-country eating. We serve meals like fried chicken with potato salad and snap beans; grilled hamburgers with the fixings and baked beans; chicken enchiladas and salad; chicken Pastry with green beans and sweet potato casserole; lasagna and salad; spaghetti and pizza; soup and sandwiches; breakfast for dinner; and favorite casseroles include pineapple casserole, vegetable casserole and corn pudding. We also get homemade desserts from a loyal supporter and cakes from the local IGA.

CN: Can you share any of your favorite stories about those sweet folks, those whom you serve?

GP: We had a man come a few years and I greeted him and hugged him as I do for all our guests. At that time, he was homeless and was hoping to stay with some family members that night. 

A few weeks later, he came back to the soup kitchen. I said oh my goodness, it is so good to see you, and his answer to me was: It is so good to be seen. People look right past people like me, so thank you. 

That is my favorite story of all.

CN: You are both retired and could be spending your time in many other ways. Why do you choose to do this?

GP and SA:  InMatthew 25:35 Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Those listening asked Jesus when did we see you see us this way, Lord? Jesus answered, “When you do these things for the least of these you have done it unto me.”

We take that literally and know that hunger especially does not just mean for food; we know people are hungry to know the Lord and have Christian fellowship. So, in addition to the meal, we also share a message and prayer every week. It all boils down to being the hands and feet of Jesus. He made a point to go to those who had less, to give them more of Himself. That is what we try to do, too.