Julia Ross Harrelson grow up in Hurdle Mills, N.C., on a farm with more than 114 acres of tobacco, squash, snap peas and anything else you could think of.
The youngest of eight children, Harrelson had the task of collecting wood for the stove and gathering water from the spring near the farm.
Her father Walter Ross distributed surplus food to friends, family and people in need – and that’s where Julia’s love for ministry began.
“I used to go with my dad to deliver items to people in my community,” Harrelson said. “We didn’t go to the store for anything except for sugar. “
About 40 years ago, Harrelson said she had a dream in which God spoke to her.
“He said to me in my right ear that I have to go out and feed people,” she said. “I looked around my room and saw no one was there, and I realized that I didn’t have any place to give food out of.”
She said God told her as long as she had a car, she would be okay.
That’s when Harrelson started traveling around Durham in her car giving food to the homeless. A few weeks after she embarked on her new journey, a man at a church in downtown Durham told her to give him a call.
“I procrastinated for about two weeks before I decided to contact him,” said Harrelson.
When she finally did, the man offered her a space in his building at 931 E. Main Street.
“I told him I didn’t think I could afford the space but he told me not to speak too soon and asked me how much I thought I could pay,” said Harrelson. “I wanted to say nothing, but at the time I didn’t have a spiritual understanding of what God had planned for my life.”
The man who offered the office space later gave Harrelson a contract giving her permission to use the space. She said the water and electricity bills had all been paid for her to move in.
From then on people donated money towards the rent and bills.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Harrelson. “We started holding services there soon after. A lot of homeless people would come to the services and try to get warm.”
She said sometimes their feet would swell so much they couldn’t put their shoes back on. She decided to start letting people spend the night at the church so they didn’t have to sleep in the cold.
“Sometimes I would spend the night there too and get up and cook for everyone in the morning,” said Harrelson. “People always knew they could come there and get a full meal.”
Harrelson said everything was donated.
“People would bring cooked meals, turkeys, blankets and whatever else we needed,” she said. “I cooked a turkey almost every day; the community was so involved.”
Harrelson has relocated to a new space on Holloway Street called Friendship Fellowship Community Center.
“I just want people to know where I am now located,” she said. “I want to keep ministering to people, I just want some help.