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Pharmacy instructor feeds homeless people each week

June 30, 2014
By Allyson Crowell
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

To the scores of people who drive by every day at rush hour, the scene looks simple enough: Homeless people line up for free hot dogs that volunteers cook on fold-out tables in a vacant lot on Meeting Street. But to MUSC College of Pharmacy instructor Dr. Wayne Weart, this place means so much more.

“If Jesus were here today, he’d be right here,” Dr. Weart said. “This is a sacred place.”

                                Dr. Wayne Weart hugs a friend at the Hot Dog Ministry.

People who come here for supper know Dr. Weart. They call him Mr. Wayne. He shows up, without fail, every Tuesday and Wednesday shortly before 5 p.m. to serve them hot dogs and to pray with them. The other volunteers give him a hard time, because he almost never arrives without a tie -- even in the100-degree summer sun.

Dr. Weart was an MUSC pharmacy resident from 1971 to 1972. He returned to MUSC as a faculty member with the College of Pharmacy and the College of Medicine in 1979 and retired nearly seven years ago, but he still teaches three or four days a week. He began working with the Hot Dog Ministry in 2011.

One of Dr. Weart’s students, Liz O’Hara, started volunteering after hearing about the Hot Dog Ministry, a project that two College of Charleston students launched eight years ago with a single grill. “My long-term goal was to start a street medicine program in Charleston,” Liz said in a recent phone conversation from Kenya, where she is completing a residency. “I became really well integrated in the homeless community, and I have all these people that I’m friends with now who have all these issues and problems. I said to Dr. Weart, ‘You should see what they’re doing.’ Dr. Weart has always been a pillar of service, so it wasn’t hard to get him there.  Once he got involved, the rest was history.”

Liz’s work resonated with Dr. Weart, who saw a place for himself and his fellow parishioners at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church. He likens the Hot Dog Ministry to a passage from Matthew 25, which reads, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Don Dye first showed up at the Hot Dog Ministry two years ago. He lost his job as a contractor in Las Vegas and lives in a tent city with 17 other people in the woods in downtown Charleston.

“Where else can you go and get a free hotdog?” Dye said. Dinner matters most in the winter, he added, when homeless people rely on sleeping bags and small fires to stay alive.

“I try to get a warm meal in my belly before I go into the tent,” Dye said. “It’s the little things that help.”

After a few months of living in a tent, one woman realized that she couldn’t ignore the ulcer on her foot any longer. Dr. Weart helped get her in to see a doctor at MUSC, who diagnosed her with a bacterial infection. The woman couldn’t cover the $9 for the treatment that she needed.

“Mr. Wayne got me my medication that night,” she said.

When Dr. Weart first started volunteering, fewer than 50 homeless people showed up to the ministry every night, but attendance these days averages about 100. By last fall, people from the local churches that run the grills every Monday through Thursday wondered how they would afford to keep everyone fed, as they served more than 300 hotdogs each night.

Dr. Weart learned that if the ministry purchased an entire 2,000-pound pallet, they could get hot dogs for 3 cents per pound instead of the nearly $3 per pound that they paid, often out of pocket. One volunteer who works in food storage offered to warehouse the hotdogs. Another volunteer in landscaping brought the trailer to pick it up.

“God has opened so many doors,” Dr. Weart said.

Two EMTs now volunteer at the Hot Dog Ministry. While church members prepare hot dogs and chili, the EMTs check blood pressure and blood sugar levels, redress bandages and listen to hearts. Dr. Weart hopes to expand the medical services by bringing in MUSC student and faculty volunteers.

“These people have become family,” Dr. Weart said. “To the people who drive by, there’s no name, no face. But these people have stories. If we can come and connect and share stories of Jesus, that’s why we’re here.”


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