Every Wednesday, Rossville Church of Christ minister Jack James watches as the parking lot fills up. It's early, before 9 a.m., but more than 100 people are already on the scene.
The visitors, who come from as far as Alabama as well as Tennessee and Georgia, are hungry - perhaps figuratively, but definitely literally.
"We average feeding 100 to 130 families every week," member Dewey Thomison said in regards to the Harvest House Food Ministry the church operates weekly. He serves as the food pantry's volunteer director. "We gave out 7,000 pounds of food in one week this summer. On average we give out 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of food per week. It's 54 pounds of food per family."
Since Jan. 1 alone, the ministry has assisted 7,670 people, and approximately 220,670 people since its inception in 2006. Many of those helped are elderly living on Social Security, Thomison said.
Recipients can fill their own grocery cart with chicken, steaks, hamburger, pork, sandwich meat, pizza, produce, salads and bread.
"About 3,000 children in Walker County are considered food-insufficient because they don't know where their next meal will come from," said Thomison. "You can see the correlation between nutrition and development. For children to reach their full potential, they need nutrition."
Sixty percent of people in the Rossville area live in poverty, he said, adding that Walker County is the fifth poorest county in the state and neighboring Whitfield County is the poorest.
"We want to change the face of our community for good," said Thomison. "On Tuesdays we have a lot of food and the next day it's gone. The next week it fills up again. We always have enough. It's remarkable to see it."
Like the Bible story in which the loaves and fishes are divided and the bounty continued to multiply, James said there are always enough food donations. The ministry is made possible by food donations from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Whole Foods, Sara Lee and Bi-Lo.
"Everyone that comes here goes home 'happy, happy, happy,' like they talk about in 'Duck Dynasty,'" Thomison said. "In our community there's a lot of violence and drive-by shootings, but this is a place where we help people, not hurt people. We serve people regardless of boundaries or income."
People picking up food can stop by the church's community desk for additional assistance on finding jobs or with rent, housing and medical needs.
Rossville Church of Christ is located at 1100 McFarland Ave. and can be reached at 706-866-1119. The food ministry is housed in a building behind the church that the congregation raised $10,000 to build. To learn more, visit rossvillechurchofchrist.com.