Why I volunteer: ‘This is truly where Jesus shows up’

Nancy Tabel

Editor’s note: As part of Xpress’ Spring Nonprofit Issue, we asked residents to send in accounts of their volunteer work with local nonprofits. See all 12 responses in this week’s print edition. 

Nancy Tabel is a volunteer at Haywood Street Congregation, which works to address homelessness and hunger in Western North Carolina.

Xpress: When and why did you begin volunteering for Haywood Street? 

Tabel: I’ve been a companion at Haywood Street Congregation for going on six years now. I look forward to helping at the Welcome Table, where we share friendship feast as a community and attending services.

Although I’m not a native, I do have long, deep roots in Asheville and Buncombe County (initially planted in 1977). And as a follower of Jesus, I was intrigued by Brian Combs’ TED Talk concerning Haywood Street’s radically different approach to outreach to the “least among us” who have largely been marginalized and excluded historically. The motto that undergirds the multifaceted ministry is “Relationship above all else” — a refreshing change from formal tenets of belief or church doctrine. Everyone is welcome at Welcome Table meals, where delicious meals are served with dignity and abundance. The amazing fresco in the sanctuary is awesome and inspiring — affirming sacred worth, restoring human dignity and sabotaging the shame of poverty. The Haywood Street fresco announces in plaster and pigment that you matter.

What do you do at the nonprofit and what keeps you returning to the volunteer position? 

As a companion (volunteer), I both give to and receive from others regardless of our social status, economic means, gender identity, race, etc. I’ve made a lot of friends at HSC and enjoy helping with the Welcome Table on most Wednesdays. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I helped distribute meals outside and covered overnight shifts in respite when needed. Recently, I made a significant donation to the deeply affordable housing project that will continue to provide homes long after I leave this realm.

What do you wish you knew prior to starting?

I wish I had engaged sooner but I felt conflicted about reallocating my resources of time, talents, abilities and monetary contributions from my former faith community, where I’d been a member for almost 30 years. After the retirement of the spiritual leader, I no longer felt the same connection and decided to explore whether HSC was a good fit. After observing, encountering and experiencing the people and varied ways that they care for one another, I was convinced that this is truly where Jesus shows up.

What do you tell folks who are interested in volunteering but have yet to commit?

Not everyone is comfortable with the “Holy Chaos” that happens on the campus sometimes. We have a group of individuals called the Mercy League, who are trained to intervene when needed to ensure everyone’s safety. And incidents are relatively few and far between.

I’d encourage you to visit and observe all that’s going on at HSC. Join us on Wednesday for a meal at the Welcome Table, get free acupuncture treatments, a haircut or beard trim, etc. Periodically there is a mobile health clinic set up in the parking lot. We even have a free street dog clinic upcoming for basic exams, flea/tick treatments and vaccinations for the dog and cat companion animals.

I’ve only had two friends join, but I’ve solicited a lot of donations — financial and otherwise. Friends had an older Toyota van that still ran well but needed a little work (cracked windshield, tires, etc). Instead of selling it, I convinced them to donate it to Haywood Street as a medical transport vehicle for the folks staying in respite. Others have donated personally or through civic organizations that they belong to.


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3 thoughts on “Why I volunteer: ‘This is truly where Jesus shows up’

  1. Karen Sanders

    Thank you, Nancy Tabel for your awesome story and your wonderful gifts you bring to the Welcome Table. They are so lucky to have you volunteer there. Great love, to the Welcome Table and you, Nancy Tabel.

  2. Lou

    So many people still subscribing to an imaginary guy named jesus. When we can all move forward and respect science as the ultimate guide, the planet will be better for it. It may be too late now though. Humans have done a number on the world. Especially humans who worship an invisible man.

  3. Enlightened Enigma

    Beautiful endeavor. Do you ever ask them where they think they will be in five years ? It stimulates their minds, or should and does sometimes when I ask them.

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