Cook: The best meal of the day

Cook: The best meal of the day

August 22nd, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

To Get Involved:

Visit www.loveexpressed423.org

Or mail donations to:

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 dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.