Open hearts, Open Door — Nonprofit celebrates 20 yearsAnniversary concert with Mountain Faith is Oct. 20
For 20 years, The Open Door Ministry has been opening much more than cans of food to feed the hungry — since Sept. 9, 1996, it has been opening the hearts and minds of the community.
The ministry, now located at 32 Commerce St., Waynesville, has become known for its hot meals, big hearts and a welcoming seat at the table for anyone in need.
The idea for The Open Door came from Ophelia Hart, who, on a Wednesday in the winter of 1996, sat down with Rob Fuquay, the newly arrived pastor at Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church, in her bakery on N.C. 209 and laid out her heart.
“I had been feeling very strongly that I wanted to do something to help the homeless,” said Hart. “It was extremely cold that winter. Every time I turned on the news, there was a report of someone being homeless. It was always with me.”
The next day, Fuquay spoke to Connie White, another member of the church, about Hart’s vision. White called Hart, and together they set a course to open Haywood County’s first soup kitchen — The Open Door.
White and Hart became the first directors of The Open Door, and together with volunteers, they served one hot meal at noon to the homeless population.
The Open Door transformed from a soup kitchen into a thriving nonprofit that “feeds the hungry and provides a safe environment that offers Christian-centered educational programs and assistance to everyone,” according to its mission statement.
White passed away several years ago from cancer, and Hart moved back to Morganton in the early 2000s to be near family while her husband was sick. But their vision continues on in the capable of hands of director Perry Hines.
When The Open Door originally opened, it only provided one meal at noon. Since that time, meal service has increased to breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday, and a worship service followed by a meal on Saturday and Sunday.
Additional services have been added through the years; The Open Door now provides laundry and shower facilities, salon services, financial assistance, a food box ministry and assistance through its Second Blessing Thrift Shop.
From Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2016, The Open Door has served 26,492 meals; given away 1,124 food boxes, totaling 44,960 pounds; provided financial assistance for 477 people, totaling $26,462; provided laundry services to 347 people and showers to 312 people; given 88 haircuts; and given thrift store assistance to 383 people.
Hines estimates, conservatively, that in its existence, The Open Door has served in excess of 500,000 meals. Food comes in via donations from MANNA Food Bank, grocery stores, businesses, churches, restaurants and private donors and from The Open Door’s own budget.
“In 20 years, we’ve never not had a meal because we didn’t have enough food,” said Hines.
A personal matter
March marked Hines’s 14th year as director. He feels he was led to the job and that it was God’s timing when he left his position as pastor at Canton Wesleyan Church to lead The Open Door.
He takes it personally, Hines said, because anyone can find themselves needing a helping hand.
“It could be my son,” he said. “It could be my grandparents on a fixed income. It could be my mom and dad who have lost jobs. It could be in my sphere of family or friends that have gone through drug addictions or mental wellness issues. It’s a very personal thing to me.”
The Open Door saw an uptick of people come through the doors during the Great Recession.
“The people we help are the new face of poverty,” he said.
While The Open Door still helps the homeless, its clients are mostly the working poor; low-income individuals and families; people who suddenly lost their jobs and homes; those on a fixed income, like seniors and the disabled; veterans; those who live paycheck to paycheck; those with physical and/or psychological issues; and those struggling with substance abuse.
“We’re seeing more and more of that,” said Hines. “Those are the people we’re really ministering to today.”
In addition to understanding the changes in poverty and helping people with all manner of problems, one of the bigger challenges has been operating a soup kitchen in a commercial setting.
“One of the challenges has been meeting the needs of those who are marginalized and disenfranchised in an area that has commercial businesses. … There’s always that concept: ‘Not in our neighborhood,’” said Hines.
He feels that The Open Door has worked very hard to respect the Frog Level businesses nearby, and tries to maintain a harmonious balance through communication and by establishing rules for clients. Clients who are not able to follow the rules or who are disruptive are asked to leave.
“We want to and attempt to work with our Frog Level merchants and our whole community to work on the problem together because it takes all of us to make it happen successfully,” said Hines.
“It is a societal problem; it’s all of our problem,” he said. “Poverty is not a Frog Level thing. It’s not a Waynesville thing. It’s not an Asheville thing. It’s not a Charlotte thing. It’s a global reality. We exist to minister to people.”
Hines said that being able to help people and seeing their lives improve has been the best part of the job.
“One man said, 'I came to the Open Door with nothing but a backpack on my back and today I have a home, I have a job and I have a happy life.’ That means the world when you hear those kinds of things,” said Hines.
Looking back on 20 years of service to the community, Ophelia Hart, the woman who started it all, is thrilled by all that The Open Door has done.
“They’ve just done extremely well; I couldn’t be prouder,” said Hart. “I feel like it’s my baby.”
When asked how she felt about being the spark that started the engine, Hart was modest.
“I feel very humble and unworthy,” she said. “I’ve questioned, ‘Why did I have this opportunity? Why was it given to me?’ It’s probably the most phenomenal spiritual experience of my lifetime. I just feel so blessed to have been a part of it.”
Celebrate with The Open Door
To say thank you to the many volunteers, sponsors and for all the community support, The Open Door will host Mountain Faith — a 2015 finalist on “America’s Got Talent” — during a low-cost concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at Haywood Community College’s auditorium.
Advance tickets for this family-friendly concert cost $10 for adults and $8 for children. Purchase them at The Second Blessing Thrift Shop on Commerce Street. To use a credit card, call The Open Door office at 452-3846.