The remnants of Hurricane Patricia were sweeping over Orlando, Florida, and Eddie Walker was soaked. It was a Wednesday morning in late October, and Walker, the pastor of In God’s Time Tabernacle, located in the downtown neighborhood of Parramore, had spent part of his morning repairing a jammed window in the white 2001 Chevrolet van that he uses to transport food donations from grocery stores and fast food restaurants across the city to his parishioners, many of whom are homeless or recovering drug addicts. When I found Walker behind his church, he beckoned me out of the rain and into the van’s cab. Walker is barrel-chested and of medium height, and his voice carries with a pastor’s booming resonance, even when he speaks quietly. I’d come to hear Walker’s life story, but from the start his cellphone continuously interrupted our conversation. Volunteers were calling to troubleshoot logistics. “Anything that you can get and you don’t have to pay for,” Walker pleaded into his phone, “order as much as you can, ’cause we can use all of it.”
After five minutes, he signaled me to climb in the van’s back cargo area, where I sat on a large plastic toolbox amid stacked banana crates and empty canvas totes marked “food relief transportation bag.” A woman named Rhonda took shotgun. She needed to get to a local health clinic that provides discounted care to the neighborhood’s residents, and was relying on Walker for a ride.
“This was supposed to be my day off,” Walker told me after dropping Rhonda at the low-slung clinic situated inside a strip mall. “But I don’t really know what that means anymore.”
One of Orlando’s poorest neighborhoods, Parramore is a place of intense need, and the burden has fallen largely on people like Walker, who works with the feverishness of a man shoring up a failing levee. Walker’s ministry guarantees to provide anyone who arrives there with enough food to sustain them for the rest of the day, no questions asked. Falling short could mean hunger for dozens in his congregation.