The first meal at the Haywood Pathways Center was served Sunday, Jan. 5, a date Jeremy Parton, shelter director and kitchen coordinator, was not certain would be met.

“That’s when we were scheduled to open,” Parton said, “but it would have never happened if six to seven of the guests staying at the shelter hadn’t worked nine hours a day cleaning, stocking and pulling food from the Open Door. Those guys really jumped in and made it happen.”

About 30 people filled the mess hall at Haywood Pathways Center the following evening. The shelter was a way to not only keep their bodies warm, but a way to warm their hearts with hope.

Before the folks lined up for Mexican night, which included quesadillas and tortilla chips and salsa, a local pastor led them in spreading the good word and a short prayer before dinner.

For 40-year-old Terra Cargill, the shelter and kitchen is temporary help. Cargill was forced to leave her apartment because of a bed bug infestation and did not have enough income to find a new place.

“If we didn’t have this place, we’d be out on the street,” said Cargill. “This means a lot.”

Cargill, who is currently trying to open a gift and flower show in Waynesville, said she is thankful for this community resource during a time of transition.

Felina Sanchez, 48, has seen better days herself. She’s currently using the shelter as transition. With 10-year-old and 17-year-old sons, Sanchez is hopeful Pathways can live up to its name.

“It’s given me a lift to put me on the right path,” she said.

The kitchen at the Haywood Pathways Center is operated by Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church, which also has a soup kitchen ministry in Frog Level that’s operated for years. The Open Door customarily provides a hot lunch in the community on weekdays and an evening meal on weekends. Those staying at the Haywood Christian Emergency Shelter were able to get an evening meal there. Those staying at the Pathways Center will use the kitchen services there, where those who can cook will rotate to prepare breakfast and sack lunches for a mid-day meal.

As with the Open Door, community churches and other groups will be able to volunteer to prepare the evening meal at the Pathways center kitchen.

“At the Open Door, the volunteers did all the cleanup, too,” Parton said, “but I’m changing that. We’ll rotate through the guests so four a night will handle cleanup.”

Parton said that will allow the volunteers to spend more time in fellowship with those at the center, and allow those who need to leave early the chance to do so.

Parton was ecstatic about the opening night on Sunday where North Canton Baptist had signed up to help out.

“I’d give it a 10-plus,” Parton said. “We had about 17 from the shelter group, and there were the church group. We joined hand around the kitchen for the blessing. It was just a real nice time.”

In previous years, churches volunteered to staff the shelter for a week at a time, but that size of a commitment prevented some of the smaller churches from participating, Parton said.

He is in the process of setting up a sign up sheet where churches and community organizations can sign up to serve one or two days a month, which will allow a regular schedule to be known by all. Those interested in volunteering can find a sign-up sheet at the Haywood Christian Emergency Shelter website or call the Pathways center kitchen at 246-6227.

By mid-February or early March, the Pathways kitchen will be a place where those struggling economically can get a free evening meal, but Parton said for now, only shelter guests are being served.

“We just need a few weeks to get the kinks out before inviting the community in,” Parton said.

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