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Longtime advocate for needy feeds more on Easter Sunday

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

Brenda Stevenson was only 11 when a man knocked on her family’s door and asked for food. Instead of running to get her mother, Stevenson made the man a sandwich and got him some water. Then, he disappeared, she said.

“I couldn’t even tell you what direction he left,” said Stevenson, now 58. “He was gone.”

The brief encounter ignited Stevenson’s desire to feed the less fortunate. And on Easter Sunday, she celebrated her 41st year handing out meals to whoever stopped by her church, New Outreach Christian Center on Gossett Avenue in northwest Charlotte.

The church distributes free meals three times a week, from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays and on Sunday mornings. But Easter’s celebration is particularly special because of the crowds and the donations, said Stevenson.

Following a half-hour service at noon on Sunday, dozens of people filed through a line to pick up meals for themselves and their families.

“Whatever your need is, you’re going to get it today,” Stevenson said to visitors.

Later in the day, church members planned to deliver food to the elderly.

Deacon Steven Phillips said the church does not limit the free meals to church members. And residents don’t have to fill out any paperwork. The church does, however, provide a church service beforehand.

“It brings them close to the word of God,” Phillips said. “We don’t try to force them, but we let them know we’re not just a food pantry, we’re a church. So God’s word comes first.”

Stevenson said the church has just under 50 regular attendees. But when the church does outreach such as the free meals during the week, more than 100 people come. Those numbers are even bigger on holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

Volunteer Sheryl Orlando said her family was one of those in need of some hope and food more than a year ago. They started regularly visiting the church during the free food nights.

Although their economic situation has improved, the family still attends the church. In fact, they’re now members.

Phillips said it’s common for people to come for the food and stay for the message.

Siblings Alfredo Jimenez, 17, and Jasmin Jimenez, 20, volunteered at the church Sunday, despite the fact that they had never visited before. They said they were grateful for an opportunity to serve others on Easter Sunday.

“It’s such a great thing to do for the community,” Jasmin Jimenez said. “They can see that people are genuinely nice and really want to help them.”

Phillips said community support has made the regular free meals possible.

“It’s never-ending. We don’t have to sit and wait for anything,” Phillips said. “It always comes. God always supplies.”

Stevenson said that’s what Easter is about: giving.

“I want them to see that there’s hope, that somebody cares and that they don’t have to worry about eating today or the next day,” she said. “Today is a miracle.”

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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