Dave Bryan is the manager of food distribution at the Haywood Christian Ministry.

He has worked in food services his entire career. The main part of his career was spent in the restaurant business in the Midwest. He spent many years with Burger Chef, which was later bought by Hardees.

When his retirement benefits began, he worked for the largest food bank in Sevierville, Tennessee. After moving to Haywood County in 2015, he volunteered at the HCM in furniture pickup, but it did not take him long to find his way to his first love of food services, and he became a paid employee.

“My main interest has always been feeding people, whether in the restaurant business or in the benevolence business,” Bryan said.

The pandemic’s effect on food distribution

If you passed by the HCM during the height of the pandemic, you may remember seeing long lines of cars waiting to enter the rear of the ministry’s building.

“The pandemic had an enormous effect on us. We lost almost all of our volunteers. Since most of our volunteers were older folks, our board did not want to risk any of these folk’s health,” Bryan said.

“On food distribution, we went to drive-through only, which went so well that we will remain drive-through only. We ballooned to over 975 clients per week, so that meant that 975 food boxes were going out every week. We were feeding thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “This really changed up how many food boxes that we had to stay ahead. In the old days, if you were 75 boxes ahead you were good, but the pandemic forced our staff to stay 400 boxes ahead.”

A food box consists of around a dozen canned goods, and dry items like pasta, rice, oatmeal and peanut butter. A box also includes five to 10 meats, dairy products, a large amount of vegetables and bread. Families can leave with multiple food boxes weighing up to 150 pounds in total, with larger families receiving more food boxes.

Food program changes

When Bryan first saw the food pantry at HCM, it reminded him of his time at the food pantry in Tennessee. “I walked in and saw hundreds of cans of food, and I asked, ‘Is this a food museum?’ Their response was that they are keeping the food for the homeless population. I said, ‘The food pantry that I came from in Sevierville had 10,000 cans of Vienna sausages on its shelves, but it wasn’t doing the homeless people any good just sitting.’”

When Bryan started as manager of the food pantry, families could come and pick up food once every two months.

“I said, ‘people eat every day, so let’s get this stuff out to the people.’ The first day food comes in should be the first day the food goes out. When we started getting more food out, we started getting more food in. It was like the loaves and fish story in the Bible,” Bryan said.

The HCM food distribution program has gone from making food available every two months to making it available every week to its clients.

“When we started distributing the food more often, there were times when we wondered, ‘Are we going to make it?’ But then some church would come in with two pickup loads, or somebody would call and say, ‘I have two pallets of some food, can you use it?’ I have seen miracle after miracle,” Bryan said.

Food sources for the ministry

The largest resource of food is the Manna Food Bank. HCM picks up orders to save on delivery costs. Three times a week a food pickup run is made to Asheville.

“It can be more than three times,” Bryan said. “One of our sources may call and say they have two pallets of pork ribs, which is an amazing amount of meat. Yes, we will send a truck right away for that. Sure, it is a tax write-off for them, but we use it to feed people.”

Here in Waynesville, Walmart, Publix and Food Lion make weekly donations, and Dollar General is about to come on board, according to Bryan.

The churches in Waynesville — both large and small — make a tremendous commitment to donating to the food pantry. Bryan has also developed a relationship with a local Mormon church and receives a food delivery from the Bishops Storehouse in Knoxville every couple of months.

HCM is a mighty warrior in the war on hunger in Haywood County. People are invited to take a tour of its impressive operation at 150 Branner Ave. Call the ministry at 828-456-4838 to set up an appointment.

A series of articles are being published about all aspects of HCM in The Mountaineer. If you have a special role in the history or information about an important topic that you would like to see published concerning HCM, contact JC Grose at 828-558-7965 or jcgroserealtor@gmail.com.

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