Raleigh pastor feeds meals to homeless outside church as shelters limit access amid COVID-19

When Raleighites deserted city streets to instead stay safe at home, some of the city's most vulnerable citizens, the ones with no homes to stay safe in, were left reeling.

It's people like Red Silvia, who before the pandemic, told us she worked cleaning windows downtown.

"Since the restaurants are closed, I have no work. So I stay under the bridge and have nothing to eat," Silvia said.

For the past three weeks, Chris and Jacqueline Jones, pastor and co-pastor of Ship of Zion Church in southeast Raleigh have been working to fill the gap.

They're handing out free meals every other day to anyone who needs it -- including a steady stream of unsheltered people who typically would rely on the city's network of shelters.

But now, new COVID-19 restrictions at those facilities have limited the number of people allowed to come, go and get food.

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"We know the curfew is 5:00. And so after 5:00, it's hard for people, homeless people to get meals," Pastor Jones said. "So we wanna make sure that we get a hot meal for people."

Silvia counts the ministry as a blessing. "It means a whole lot to me, ya know. I thank God that he's still helping us out," she said.

Governor Roy Cooper pledged last week to work on diverting some of the millions in federal relief dollars to preventing the spread of COVID-19 among the state's homeless population.

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"And I appreciate the local governments and nonprofits and the people of faith who are stepping up and trying to help people who do not have a home right now," the governor said at his Friday briefing.

Back at the Ship of Zion, they're not just helping fill the need for food, but also providing desperately-needed business for struggling local restaurants.

"We're getting a lot of food from Enrigo (Italian Bistro). And man, that food is great! And so the people are really enjoying that," said Pastor Jones. "In order for us to minister to people we got to take care of needs. And so it really blesses us to be able to come out of this most difficult time with this virus out here to be able to help."

Ship of Zion wants to expand the ministry to be able to deliver those meals daily during the crisis not just every other day.

The church also wants to begin delivering the meals to local first responders and health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. But an expansion requires more funding -- CLICK HERE if you would like to help.

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