CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On distribution day at Care to Share Outreach Center and Food Pantry, families in cars are lined up for essentials and their share of compassion.
Volunteers take turns loading boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables into trunks, selecting additional goodies like a cake or pastries to give to the people inside the vehicles.
This effort to lift up neighbors in need started with a dream more than two decades ago. Hattie McNealy ran the modest operation out of her home with just a handful of volunteers.
"People would bring food and clothing for little children and toys, and I would box them up and say, 'Now, let's find somebody who needs them,'" McNealy said.
Today, Care to Share is a 501(c)(3) organization, offering food, clothing, hygiene products, and health referrals to those who need it. Its food line runs through the parking lot at Greater Bethel AME Church on The Plaza in Charlotte.
"She serves more than 4,000 people a month, not because of any desire to be in the media, to be recognized or even get compensated," Raphael Sebastian, board member of Care to Share, said.
Sebastian submitted the Hyundai Hometown Hero nomination for McNealy, noting she has been without a vehicle for about a year, since hers broke down. McNealy has continued to serve though, hitching rides with friends or taking ride-hailing services to her pantry several days a week.
But on food distribution day, WCNC Charlotte and the Charlotte Area Hyundai dealers arrived with a special surprise for McNealy -- a brand new Hyundai Santa Fe, parked in the car line, alongside those she serves.
Volunteers guided her to the car, under the pretense that it belonged to a pantry client who needed to speak with her about a concern.
McNealy approached the vehicle to find WCNC Charlotte anchor Vanessa Ruffes inside, eager to break the good news.
"This is your car!" Ruffes exclaimed.
"This is my car?" McNealy replied, confused at first.
That's when Barry Deas, with Flow Hyundai of Statesville, came forward to present the keys to the newest Hometown Hero.
"On behalf of the Charlotte Area Hyundai Association, we'd like to give you a brand new car for all the hard work you've done," Deas said, handing McNealy her new car keys, as McNealy hung her head in her hands and sobbed with joy.
"It was a wonderful surprise, the best surprise that I've had in my whole entire life," McNealy said.
"To be able to come down and give her a car like that was extremely special," Deas said.
Jim Keffer, with Keffer Hyundai, said the gesture sends a larger message to every day heroes across the community.
"You guys are the ones making the most difference," Keffer said. "It's not the athletes. It's not the movie stars. It's the people that are doing meaningful stuff for other people in their community and we absolutely love you."
McNealy took her SUV on a lap around the parking lot and had hardly finished her first turn before talking about her plans to use her new wheels to help families who contact her needing help.
"I'll be able to get in the car. I'll be able to come over and meet them and give them food," McNealy said. "God blessed me. So, I want to bless others."