Each Friday, Henry Williams spends hours picking up food from local grocers and merchants along with his brother-in-law. The first stop is always Whole Foods. After that, he heads to Earth Fare for dry goods and dairy. Then it’s Starbucks for individually wrapped pastries, Papa Johns for leftover pizzas and Harris Teeter for deli and bakery goods. Finally, he swings by Food Lion to pick up deli items, produce and meats. “Boy, we really get loaded up there,” he said. With his white van filled to the brim, Williams returns to the Triad Food Pantry, housed at High Point Seventh-Day Adventist Church, to start unloading it all. He has been running the pantry for more than 30 years with his wife, Jo. While Jo Williams is the public face of the organization, just last week winning a lifetime achievement award from The Volunteer Center, she says Henry is the backbone. “Without him, we couldn’t do what we do here,” she said. Henry Williams is a brick mason with 55 years of experience. Nine years ago, he partially retired and started his own business at the age of 62. He has one employee, that same brother-in-law. The duo do small jobs that big contractors won’t take on, such as fixing steps, repairing cracks in walls, building low chimneys and helping with room additions, among other projects. “I enjoy it really, and the money’s still good,” he said. “We help a lot of people.” They work Monday through Thursday, taking Friday off to work a full day at the pantry and going to church on Saturday. Williams still works at the pantry throughout the week, though, especially on its monthly food giveaway days.
Boxes of food are given out to seniors and people with disabilities the third Tuesday of each month, and anyone can come get a box on the third Wednesday. Though, if people do stop by at random times throughout the month, Williams will still give them a box of food. “It was last Sunday or the Sunday before last a guy came here and said, ‘I want some peanut butter and crackers,’” Williams said. “I just fixed him up a nice box and put in some hamburger and spaghetti and some chicken. He was happy. We just give it because it ain’t going to do no good sitting in here.” Williams drove the man home, too, since the box full of food was much heavier than the crackers and peanut butter he expected to walk home with in his pocket. Each month, Williams and other volunteers set up mobile food pantries at a handful of local churches, and, at least twice a week, he takes food to the public housing community Elm Towers. “When they see the van going down Main Street to head for Elm Towers, they’ll be there waiting,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll see people come out of Elm Towers and they’ll be going down the street on their wheelchairs. When they see that van coming, they’ll turn around.” Some of the grocery stores give the Triad Food Pantry extra deliveries during the week, and it’s Williams, of course, who picks them up.
If there’s a project at the pantry that needs to be done, it’s him who does that, too. He salvaged the cabinets that line the church’s fellowship hall, which is a work space for the pantry during non-church hours, from a Food Lion that was renovating. When he discovered during one of his pickups that they were going to be throw away, he took them back to the pantry and fixed them up. If you ask him why he does it all, he’ll say it’s because he’s Jo’s gopher. “I’ve been doing it so long it’s just part of me,” he said. “If I wasn’t doing it, I’d be kind of bored.” But Jo, who has been married to Henry since 1965, said it has more to do with his character. “His secret is he doesn’t raise his voice. He doesn’t ask for anything,” she said. “The people love him.” Anyone who has met Henry Williams has likely been asked, “Has anybody told you they love you today?”
The chorus of the Triad Food Pantry’s theme song, which he wrote, ends: “If you open your heart, you’ll find love for everybody.” Jo smiled as she watched him sing the song Wednesday in the church fellowship hall.
“He’s the heart of this,” she said. “They think it’s me. It’s him.”