One moment, it's nothing but an empty lot on the corner of Meeting and Lee streets. The lot itself consists of a concrete slab, a driveway and some weeds. But for a couple of hours most nights, this barren place serves a much greater purpose. This is the home of Charleston's hot dog ministry.
It started as a simple idea to help the homeless. But those who wanted to help also recognized that to have an impact, it would be important not to just help those in need, but to know them as well.
In the beginning, hot dogs were offered only weekly. Almost four years later, seven churches and various other congregational members are pitching in to give out free hot dogs to anyone who shows up - five nights a week.
Wayne Weart, 66, a retired professor from MUSC, was introduced to what was happening by one of his students. That was three and a half years ago and now he's one of the organizers.
About 4:30 every weekday afternoon, volunteers set up grills and folding tables. The idea is to feed the body and the soul.
Weart believes each person has a face, a name and a story. He also embraces this well-known Bible verse: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
As 5 o'clock arrives, so do some hungry people. About a third are veterans. Others are those who live under the Ravenel bridge, in the woods or in a nearby tent city. The food is handed out until there is no more. Ususally, 320-plus hot dogs are consumed.
But there's more on this ministerial menu.
As mothers, children, down-and-out dads, veterans and others eat their hot dogs, Weart speaks to them individually to ask if they have a prayer request. One lady could really use a flashlight. A man in his 50s would appreciate some work boots.
Weart is accustomed to seeing many of the same faces with periodic newcomers drifting in and out of the food line.
Before the crowd disperses and the volunteers start their cleanup, all are invited to circle for a prayer of thanks.
Later in the evening, Weart starts emailing those prayer requests to his chain of volunteers and their churches. Without fail, a flashlight or a pair of boots will somehow find its way to the corner of Lee and Meeting within a couple of days.
The seven churches committed to this ministry are Bethany Baptist, Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, East Cooper Baptist, First Baptist of Mount Pleasant, St. Michael's Episcopal, St. Matthew's Lutheran and Miles Road Baptist. But these aren't budgeted, monetary commitments: These are commitments of time and love.
Food for thought
Seventy to 100 people show up each night to eat. The hope is through the short devotion and prayer circle, they'll also receive some spiritual nutrition.
Last winter during the ice storm, the hot dogs still were served. On Christmas Eve and New Year's, the grills were fired up and the tables unfolded.
The owner of the lot is Sam Gilchrest, who gives support and permission for this ministry to continue. Some nights, grocery stores donate buns or day-old bread. Monetary contributions are used to buy condiments. New Orleans Cold Storage offers to house the food.
Weart says it's "God's work, our hands."
As the prayer of thanks brings another evening to a close, those who ate slowly disappear. A few may have a bed at the nearby Crisis Center. Most, though, shuffle off to the spots they have claimed in the urban landscape.
More volunteers will grill again the next night and 75-100 people will show up for a "devotion and a dog."
Volunteers agree to never give anyone money. Hopefully, what is being supplied is even more valuable.
Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or wpeper@ postandcourier.com.
Wayne Weart speaks, and then listens, to person after person in line at the “hot dog ministry” for those needing a simple, hot meal on Upper Meeting Street. He tries to connect a name with a face with a story as he sees many of the same people week after week. “We are blessed by being here,” he said of the volunteers.×