Lads at the StewpotThe twelve British referees staying with Lake Highlands families while they’re in town to call games at the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup international youth soccer tournament knew they’d get a chance to tour Big D before their matches begin Sunday. They’ve toured the Sixth Floor Museum and Cowboys Stadium and tasted guacamole and salsa – typical Dallas stuff. They didn’t know we’d signed them up to help feed the homeless at the Stewpot’s Second Chance Cafe.

They began with a tour of the Bridge, downtown’s homeless shelter, then they had a lesson on serving from Jean Jones, Director of Volunteer Services. James, Ben and Barry took their places behind the counter spooning pasta and salad onto plates while Scott passed out trays of food. Andrew and Kevin handled empty trays and trash, and the rest greeted guest, served water and cleared tables.

You can see my photo slideshow here.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Andy Williams. “It puts things into perspective.”

“I had a pre-conceived idea of what homeless people are like,” shared Andrew Brown. “They’re just like us, really.”

“At home, I tend to sort of avoid homeless people,” admitted James Durkin. “I get my phone out when they approach. I was amazed at how receptive they were. Something as simple as pouring a glass of water is so appreciated. I’m humbled by it, really.”

Jean told me that many clients at the Bridge grapple with addiction and/or mental health issues, but she introduced the Lads and me to Gary, who was cleaning tables and mopping floors. After Gary lost his job, he quickly depleted his meager savings. He had no felony convictions and no addictions, but he was an older guy and no one would hire him. It wasn’t long before he found himself homeless.

Gary has now found a part-time job, but without money for down payments and months of credit and work history, he can’t yet get an apartment. He’s in transitional housing at the bridge and he volunteers at the Café.

“He’s ‘this close’ to getting his own place,” Jean said, “and he promises he’ll save, save, save to avoid ever being in this predicament again.”

“This experience was eye-opening,” said Will Finnie, who played piano for the diners when he wasn’t pouring water. “In such a big city where people have great jobs, you don’t realize there are 6,000 homeless people.”

The Bridge is a 24/7 homeless recovery center, the boys learned, providing case workers, doctors, nurses, attorneys and a wide variety of other assistance in addition to hot meals and a place to sleep.

While there we met some regular volunteers who were charmed by the Lads and invited us to lunch. Turns out Carol lived on Loma Vista in Lake Highlands for years, and her kids, Jennifer and Brent Bourland, graduated from LHHS in the ‘90s. Carol, who now lives in Addison, has volunteered every other week for the last 3 years.

“It’s very uplifting for me,” she told me. “What’s shocking to me is that many of them look like they could be my neighbors. And they’re always so appreciative.”

“It’s good to see that they had somewhere to go,” said James Scerri, one of three Lads staying at my house. “The people who volunteer here every month are the ones who deserve the thanks.”

Added Andy, “Several of them said ‘Say hello to the Queen for me!’”