Leslie Gilbert, standing left, thanks the Food for Folks volunteers during a breakfast in the Pony Island Restaurant.

Text and photos by Connie Leinbach

Food for Folks brings weekday lunches to a dozen Ocracoke shut-ins, but the fellowship feeds their spirits.

“The most fun is visiting the people,” said Mary Ellen Piland, one of about 20 volunteers for the program and who in April were treated to breakfast at the Pony Island Restaurant. “They love to talk to the volunteers and are so appreciative of the meals.”

“Some of these elderly don’t see anyone all day,” said Russell Reynolds, one of the delivery volunteers. “It’s very rewarding.”

Lunches are cooked weekdays in the Ocracoke United Methodist Church (OUMC) Rec Hall.

A crew of cooks is organized by Don Hahn and the delivery crew is organized by Jen Esham.

Most of the lunches are cooked with food from the Bread of Life Food Pantry at the Ocracoke Life Saving Church as this is a joint project between the churches.

It’s up to the cooks to decide what to cook – a meat dish, starch, vegetables, rolls, dessert, Hahn said.

Sometimes Food for Folks gets donations of leftovers from weddings or other island feasts, and those donations are welcome. But Hahn said cash donations allow the group to purchase what is needed.

Melissa Sharber with her mini cheesecakes.

Recently, the Garrish family’s Melissa Sharber, whose mother, Margaret Garrish, invented the famous Ocracoke fig cake, was preparing the day’s meals — ham, green bean, macaroni & cheese and, that day, mini cheesecakes.

“We like to feed people,” Sharber, who is a fill-in cook, said.

“They know when the O’cocker’s cook,” said Piland about the recipients. (O’cocker is a moniker for those natives from original island families.)

Other “O’cockers” who cook sometimes are Kenny Ballance and his sister Kathy.

Leslie Gilbert, who organized the thank-you event, said that some island restaurants donate meals once a month.

Those include Harts’ Hot Dog Hut, Old Salt Sandwiches & Such, Native Seafood and Sorella’s Pizza & Pasta.

Any restaurants interested in providing meals are welcome to contact the church or Gilbert to arrange it.

Several years ago, the Meals on Wheels program delivered the meals, but that stopped when Hurricane Dorian hit in 2019.

Soon after that, the late Tom Slater, husband of then-pastor of the OUMC Susie Fitch-Slater, revived the lunches along with Hahn, and they have continued ever since.

“It’s the highlight of their day,” Gilbert said about the recipients.

Anyone wishing to contribute can send checks with “Community lunches” in the memo line to the Methodist Church, P.O. Box 278, Ocracoke NC 27960.

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