“You need some help tonight,” he asks the man at the door.
Yes, he does.
It’s supposed to plunge into the 20s when the sun goes down. Ice and snow is predicted at daybreak.
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“Meet me at the park at 5:30,” Dortch tells him.
It’s the park across from his small home in downtown Beaufort, where Dortch grew up a somewhat resentful son of a pastor who seemed to give all his attention and time to everyone except his own family.
Today Dortch is a pastor himself, whose book about his life is called “Memoirs of the Prodigal Son: The Road to Redemption: Fifteen Years in Prison and Beyond.”
“I get it now,” he says.
He led a brick-and-mortar church for a while, but his burden is the homeless — specifically homeless veterans.
“The community is my church,” he said. “The marginalized, drug addicts, homeless veterans.”
On Tuesday evening, he drives the van of the Circle of Hope Ministries to the park and to where the Piggly Wiggly used to be and takes seven people to an overnight shelter at Sea Island Presbyterian Church on Lady’s Island.
It is believed to be the only overnight shelter for the homeless in the county. It cranks up when temperatures hit freezing. All are welcome, but guests cannot bring alcohol or weapons. It is run by volunteers from the church, with help from volunteers from First Presbyterian and Carteret Street United Methodist churches downtown.
It opens at 6 p.m. They have a meal at 7 p.m. A shower and beds are available. They serve breakfast at 7 a.m., and the guests leave at 8 a.m. Police, churches and other nonprofits know about the shelter and try to get those in need there.
They plan to be open all this week.
After Dortch finishes his delivery to the church, three more homeless would find shelter at his home.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dortch drove the guests from the church to an emergency day shelter set up by the American Red Cross at Robert Smalls International Academy.
Steve Keeler, the senior pastor at Sea Island Presbyterian, said, “I don’t live in an ivory tower. I’m like you, I’ve been around a while. People can talk a certain talk, but it is gratifying to me to see people walk the walk and go eyeball to eyeball with ‘the least of these.’ They don’t bring attention to themselves. They just do it. It’s something I pray we never lose.”
Barbara Thomas has a warm home on Callawassie Island. In fact, she’s downsized from Spring Island. But for the past five years, she’s organized the church’s shelter. Her real job is working for Habitat for Humanity International from home, helping coordinate volunteers from 16 countries helping provide shelter for the least of these in 40 countries worldwide.
I asked her why she bothers with the homeless on cold nights in paradise.
“Because we can,” she said, “and there are some who cannot. How can we not?”
On Wednesday morning, in a cold rain, with snow and ice due and news about closed bridges and overturned cars, Charlee Pullon leaves her comfortable home on Hilton Head Island.
Wednesday is her day to run the Grateful Hearts Soup Kitchen at Holy Family Catholic Church on Hilton Head. That’s where she was headed, a bit early, because they have no method to reach Hilton Head’s homeless to tell them the soup kitchen would not be open, so it had to be open, she said.
Five volunteers served a simple meal of hot dogs, mac and cheese and warm soup. Two people ventured out to eat.
“You would think that some of these churches would open up in this weather,” she said.
“People need to be aware that in an area that is usually so warm, when something like this comes along, it really hurts our poor people.
“I pray that these people are going to find a place to stay.”