published Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Cook: The best meal of the day

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Love Expressed Ministries

1314 Dodson Ave.

Chattanooga, TN 37406

This morning, there's no breakfast.

You see, Chris and Cookie Rolle aren't home. They've left for Miami to bury Chris's mom, so that means they won't be waking up at 4:30 today as they've done every other day for the past year.

They won't be unlocking the iron-barred front door to their Dodson Avenue home, just across from the Avondale bus stop.

They won't be carrying the folding tables and chairs out into the front yard, putting hot water on for the oatmeal, setting out the boxes of granola bars, washing the apples and bananas, icing down the milk and juice, writing the Word of the Day on the dry-erase board (Thursday's was "Obey"), uncapping the ink pen so kids can sign in on the spiral notebook, pressing "play" on the gospel music CD, refilling the basket of free toiletries near the Pop-Tarts, all of it under the donated awnings that keep the rain and snow away.

Today, for the first time in more than a year, the line of 40 kids who come to the Rolles' home each morning before they catch the school bus -- the first walks up around 5:45, the last at 7:55 -- won't have any breakfast.

And as everybody knows, breakfast -- especially this breakfast -- is the most important meal of the day.

"These children are traumatized," Chris said. "They come to us with tears in their eyes, in the dark, on the way to the bus stop."

When the Rolles (the 'e' is silent) moved in on Dodson Avenue, they would look out the window at kids lining up for the bus. Cussing. Some fighting. Sometime men in cars would slow down near where the girls stood, and stare. Some mornings, the kids seemed especially tired. The night before, there had been a shooting.

So the Rolles prayed.

"God said to feed them," Chris said.

It started last school year. At first, kids kept cool. Didn't trust the Rolles, this older couple new to the streets.

Then, it caught on.

"Welcome to the breakfast club," Delmonta McDaniel says as I walk up.

He's an eighth-grader at East Lake. Next to him, an 11th-grader from Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts. More girls from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. A boy from East Ridge, others from Tyner. Soon, a third-grader walked up.

"Did you lose a tooth?" Chris asked. (She smiles ... yes.)

Yogurt. Raisins. Oatmeal. Six different kinds of granola bars. Two kinds of cereal. Gummis. Strawberry-kiwi juice. Cold milk. Hot chocolate. Brown bags with snacks for after school.

"We can't wait to get the breakfast," said Travian Peoples, a Tyner freshman.

More than once, kids have knocked on their door late at night, asking for food.

"Five-year-olds," Chris said.

During the winter, they pass out coats. Each morning, they pick up the trash from the sidewalk -- "beer bottles, clothes, condoms, diapers," Chris said -- to teach kids about respecting their neighborhood. Once, Chris cracked a joke, and got a mean-faced kid to laugh. It was the first time Chris had ever seen him smile.

"You can look at the hardness in some of their faces," Chris said.

Others are warm and ambassador-welcoming. We talk, in an easy way. They say "ma'am" and "sir."

"How are you?" Cookie asks one child.

"Good. And you?" the child says back.

The Rolles have no air conditioning. Most of their appliances have been donated. Their stove is a two-eye burner. They save their grocery receipts -- $1,903.47 from March; $820.87 from November -- in a plastic container.

"Don't bounce that basketball near the street," Cookie says to one boy.

They are safety patrol, therapist, surrogate parent, tutor and chef. All for one reason.

"We want these kids to feel like they are a person of value," Cookie said. "We love them."

It's time we let the Rolles know they are loved back.

Yes, they've gotten awards and recognition. This may not be the first time you've read about them. Many of you have even donated before.

But without help, their bus-stop breakfast may end soon.

"We're tapped out," Chris said.

Their shelves are as empty as they've ever been. Their savings account, just as bad.

They've asked the Chattanooga Area Food Bank for help. Have spoken with City Council members and local community leaders.

"Turned us down," Chris said. "We're at the end of our rope."

I have zero doubt that many of you will send in donations. But the Rolles also need some form of consistent funding, for their work is -- I believe -- life-saving. Go see for yourself.

Drive down Dodson Avenue early one morning, before sunrise.

In all that pitch-black darkness, just look for the light.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
sagoyewatha said...

There was a time and a place where the Rolles would have been beatified for sainthood by now because of the good work they have been doing. Every church and every "community organizer" and "activist" in that area should hang heads in should every parent of each child who has to come there for food...and some in the middle of the night...those parents should go directly to jail. I guess the story you told today is too affect laden to be dealt with by that bunch of anti-intraceptive, extrapunitive folk who are easily "OUTRAGED!!!!" by other folk behavior. I applaud you, Mr. Cook, because you keep on trying, but people who need to read your work probably don't read much of anything, probably because school was to bothersome for them to attend. So they never developed any higher order values...that's why they don't give one whit about the children.

August 22, 2014 at 6:31 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

While what the Rolles have done is certainly laudable, it is unconscionable that our government and we ourselves allow hunger and deprivation to exist in a land of such riches and resources. America is not broke. The vast majority of the wealth is simply in the pockets of a few individuals and corporations. It is not charity that is going to save us but a sound and sensible economic policy that assures that the wealth is distributed in a manner that is equitable for everyone. Poverty and America shouldn't even exist in the same sentence. Greed is not good. There is no reason for anyone to have multi-billions of dollars, and being able to acquire that much when so many go hungry and work for paltry wages is not what freedom is all about.

Capitalism as we have known it cannot exist much longer. Our resources are finite and we have practically destroyed the planet in our indiscriminate use of them. We can either switch to a more environmentally harmonious and socially balanced system or we can go down with this sinking ship.

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

August 23, 2014 at 1:10 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Did MLK III know what his pappy said? I just saw him on tv, he was so fat they probably had to wheel him in. Put your money where your mouth is Rickee, send a check to help feed the kids. As long as we have your kind of nutcase, we will need philanthropy.

August 23, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
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