DOBSON — Inmates of the Surry County Jail normally would’ve received a lunch Saturday consisting of tacos, a tossed salad, rice and refried beans — a tasty lineup, no doubt, yet not a traditional holiday meal in these parts.
But since it was Christmas Eve, the 113 inmates were treated to just that, thanks to an annual outreach effort spearheaded by Blackwater United Methodist Church to ensure people who are behind bars can still enjoy a bit of holiday cheer.
And along with plates loaded with ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and homemade desserts — to be washed down with the soft drink of one’s choice — another mouthwatering ingredient was part of Saturday’s lunch at the jail. It was a hefty portion of a special dish called someone cares.
“They’re doing a good thing for us,” one inmate, Michael Norman, said as he helped deliver plates to fellow prisoners housed in H-Block on an upper floor of the Dobson facility; as a trustee, Norman is allowed out of his cell to assist with tasks such as the food delivery. He said the holiday meal was appreciated — but the thought behind it was just as welcome.
It was good “to see somebody’s thinking about you,” Norman said of the effort by the local church. “We’re really thrilled with what they’re doing.”
In all, meals were prepared Saturday for 113 inmates — 16 females and 97 males.
Arrest sparked idea
The Christmas Eve lunch has been an annual tradition of Blackwater United Methodist Church since 2007.
Sheriff Graham Atkinson, who attends that church, said the meal originated with a situation involving the wife of a former pastor there. Her brother found himself incarcerated for meth-related activity.
“I’m actually the one that arrested him,” the sheriff said of the former pastor’s brother-in-law, whose time in jail encompassed the Christmas season. This led his sister to advocate a special meal being delivered to inmates on Dec. 24 by the church.
But it was not as easy as that.
“At the time we started this, there were a lot of regulatory hurdles to jump through,” the sheriff said of rules in place to ensure the safety of food served in an institutional setting.
That was no problem, since another person at the church, Cindy Marion, was a certified food service professional and agreed to supervise the operation and make sure sanitation standards were met.
Although Marion, a former food services director for Mount Airy schools, no longer attends Blackwater United Methodist, she still assists with the meal at the jail, and was there Saturday.
Volunteers gathered at the church at 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve to cook the food and pile it into huge trays covered by tin foil.
Then they delivered it to the jail’s kitchen, where about a dozen people gathered around a table loaded with the trays and formed an assembly line to place the food into Styrofoam containers. Those were placed on carts and delivered to the cell blocks by those who prepared it with the help of jail staff members and inmate trustees.
Atkinson said that in addition to Blackwater United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church of Dobson had a hand in this year’s effort.
Charles Davis of Ararat, who also doesn’t attend Blackwater United Methodist, still lent his assistance to Saturday’s food effort, including wearing a hairnet as he and others put the food into plates.
Davis, who has helped prepare and deliver the Christmas Eve lunch for about four years along with his wife Judy, had a simple answer when asked to explain his motivation for getting involved to help those behind bars:
“It’s Christmas,” he said. “We hope it’s a blessing to them.”
And who knows, the assurance that somebody out there cares could be a catalyst for helping inmates become productive members of society.
After all, that’s what happened with the brother of the former pastor’s wife whose incarceration got the holiday lunch going in the first place.
“He turned his life around,” Sheriff Atkinson said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.