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Cookie, left, and Chris Rolle look on during the beginning of their Christmas party at the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center in this 2013 file photo.
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David Cook

Not long ago, you read about Chris and Cookie Rolle, the retired couple on Dodson Avenue who wake up each morning hours before the sun to serve a front-yard breakfast - fruit, cereal, hot chocolate, oatmeal, energy bars - for dozens and dozens of neighborhood children on their way to the Avondale bus stop.

But the Rolles' cupboard was running bare. Their hope, thinning.

You read, and you responded.

"We've gotten enough to fund us an entire school year," Chris said.

Cash from strangers in the Walmart checkout. Metropolitan Ministries has partnered with them. The Church of the Good Shepherd gave thousands of dollars to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank for the Rolles.

Grace Episcopal is buying a new stove. Help from McCallie School. Folks have stopped by: one man to build shelves, another couple to help serve, tons of Silverdale Baptist congregants, one local doctor with $1,000.

The Rolles have wept and danced for joy - literally, Cookie was jumping and crying - so overcome by such big-hearted love.

"People care," said Cookie. "That speaks volumes to me."

But every story needs a villain, some fat fly in the soup.

Meet the Hamilton County Department of Education.

"They want to shut us down," said the Rolles.

In a letter written last week, the department is threatening to move the bus stop altogether.

"This is a dangerous situation," wrote Transportation Supervisor Benjamin Coulter.

His letter sounded dire: Kids in the road. Teenagers darting across traffic. Students who were late coming from breakfast, which made the bus wait, which made the bus late.

In other words, like every other bus stop in America.

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Letter from Hamilton County Transportation Supervisor Benjamin Coulter to parents concerning the bus stop at the Avondale Center.

"If the problem continues, we may have to move the bus stop to another location," he wrote.

Huh.

Move the bus stop.

To another location.

Away from the loving, retired couple who are serving hot meals and warm hugs each morning to 70 - sometimes - 80 kids who are living in a trauma zone of poverty, violence and loneliness.

That's the school system's solution?

It's almost unbelievable, like April Fools in October.

That's why the Rolles think it's really about something else.

"Trash on the bus," Chris said.

Some kids take their breakfast on the bus, even though the Rolles tell them not to. They've stuffed extra food - for dinner, for the weekend - into their backpacks. They make a mess.

Bus drivers have to clean it up. Bus drivers complain to the education department.

Nobody wants that, especially the Rolles. Each morning, Chris models good behavior by walking the street, picking up trash from the night before. They remind the kids to respect the bus driver. No trash, they tell them.

(When I visited, nobody was running in the road. It was safe. And polite. And clean.)

Relocating the entire bus stop is unimaginative, unintelligent and punitive, like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Or just because it's dirty.

The Rolles have an idea.

"The rec center," they said.

The Avondale Rec Center is directly across from them, on the same side of the street as the bus stop. Last year, the Rolles said they asked permission to use it.

"They said no," he said.

Sounds like the Rolles could use your help once more.

> Contact the mayor's office at 423-643-7800 or mayor@chattanooga.gov.

Andy Berke's administration has authority over each rec center.

> Contact the school board.

At least four different school board members are representing families whose kids are eating with the Rolles in the morning.

George Ricks in District 4, who can be reached at 423-698-1656.

Karitsa Mosley in District 5, who can be reached at 423-838-8826.

Joe Galloway in District 6. His number is 423-821-4945.

David Testerman in District 8. 423-322-0584.

Their emails can be found at hcde.org. Tell them there are better solutions than moving the bus stop.

One local woman already has.

"Any [bus stop] along this traffic corridor will always put children at risk from high traffic," Lisa Lemza said in an email to school board members and superintendent Rick Smith. "No one seemed to care until the Rolles took action."

"The response by your administration is almost clownishly bureaucratic, a caricature of a system working against the children it professes to serve," she continued.

Then, she offered the best idea yet as to where to move the bus stop.

"Directly in front of the Rolles' home," she said.

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

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