By Jennifer Holland Jameson
For David Timothy, feeding the homeless is more than handing out hot, hardy meals. It’s about the relationships built along the way.
For David Timothy, feeding the homeless is more than handing out hot, hardy meals. It’s about the relationships built along the way.
His endless work to reach out to those who feel forgotten and hopeless on the streets of Dallas has transformed countless lives, including his own. Led by Jesus’ call in John 21:17 to “Feed my sheep,” Timothy’s ministry offers the homeless spiritual love, hugs and hope.
“We’re of the belief you need to feed people two ways. Yes, you have to feed their stomachs. The homeless, they need food,” says Timothy, 65, who started the non-profit charity called the SoupMobile with a single, second hand van a decade ago. “But we also need to feed them Christ. We need to feed their souls.”
Timothy, known as SoupMan around town, says he knows he can do anything through Christ.
Christ came into focus for Timothy later in his life, thanks to his late wife Peggy, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after they were married in 1989. At the time, Timothy, who was a pension consultant, decided he would not accept that no cure existed. The couple lived in a Recreational Vehicle, traveling the country in search of the best treatment for Peggy.
Timothy says he watched Peggy decline from a vibrant, active woman to a bedridden invalid. She passed away unexpectedly in 2004 on her 48th birthday in Dallas.
“I was her husband more in name. I was her caregiver for that 15 years,” Timothy says. “As I look back, the gift that she gave me, offering Christ, is something I’ll never be able to repay her for doing.”
He believes his time with Peggy transformed him from a life of selfishness to a life that God intended for him, selflessly helping others.
That kind of raw emotion is what helps Timothy connect with people who may feel far from God or simply need a second chance.
“We are so grateful that you allow us to come into your lives, to serve you, to hug you, to love you,” Timothy tells the homeless daily.
His approach is what drives SoupMobile to orchestrate its annual “Celebrate Jesus” event, where 500 men, women and children are selected via lottery system to be guests of honor at the Downtown Dallas Omni Hotel.
With the help of 2,500 volunteers, the homeless both on the streets and in shelters are given red-carpet treatment, including new clothes, gifts, a formal banquet–where the mayor serves as head waiter–and an overnight hotel stay.
“The most important thing about this entire Christmas event is when these homeless people wake up on Christmas morning, it’s not in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere; it’s not in a desolate shelter; it’s not in some dumpster; it’s not in some abandoned building, but in a warm safe bed at the Omni hotel,” Timothy says.
But don’t be sad when these men and women return to the streets.
“In fact, be joyous,” Timothy assures. “When they see this incredible outpouring of love … they go back out there with a different attitude … with hope and the knowledge that people really do care about them.”
Thomas Waters knows about finding hope through the SoupMobile. The 58-year-old father of six had lived on the streets most of his childhood and served several stints in prison, where he got a college education. He managed to hold steady jobs as a cook until he again became entangled in drugs a few years ago.
Waters says he was forced to live in an abandoned house for a year before he reached out to Timothy for help.
“When you hit rock bottom, the hardest thing about that is getting somebody to trust in you again,” says Waters, who believes God’s grace led him to Timothy, who was looking for a new chef. “The Soupman gave me a chance, and ever since then, me and him have established a real strong relationship.”
When Waters has a hard day, he reflects on his past, which helps immediately put things in perspective.
“I look back on the hard times, living in an empty house, using a plastic bag as a restroom and nobody to turn to and nowhere to go,” he says. “Now I look at where I’m at; I’m stable, I’m off drugs, so that makes me feel better.”
Waters says he has always had a strong relationship with God, and hopes his story of faith and success will help those who see him at the SoupMobile.
“I really don’t talk to them much about a message. I try to be an example to them. Most of them know my story,” Waters says. “It’s kinda like I can show you better than I can tell you.”
Timothy lives by example, too. His life of service at the SoupMobile introduced him to a dedicated volunteer, Shana, who became his wife in 2008. “I can tell you from personal experience that giving to your fellow man is far more satisfying than one could ever imagine,” he says.
For the next project, Timothy wants to raise $250,000 to build a church for the homeless in south Dallas. “Why hasn’t somebody thought of this before–a church for the homeless–where they’re the members; we’re the guests?” he asks.
Currently, Chaplain John Boylan sets up his mobile chapel under a tent every Friday at a lunchtime location, inviting the homeless to gather for a service following their SoupMobile meal.
Timothy says it’s important to allow the men and women to eat first and choose to stay to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
“We’re not going to force it down your throat. We offer love, but you might not be ready for it,” he says of the service. “That’s up to Christ to decide when you’re ready.”
Getting to know David Timothy
Could you tell us about your life growing up in Detroit? Any brothers or sisters? Did your mother and father work? Did they ever talk about God?
Life growing up in Detroit with two brothers and a sister was difficult. Dad and mom split up, and Mom struggled to find work to support us. God was not an important part of our lives. We were just struggling to survive. (By the way, it was my late wife Peggy who brought me to Christ). He was not really part of my childhood. While I was never homeless, I grew up in a household where food was scarce. Many evenings, dinners consisted of two pieces of white bread with butter and then sugar sprinkled on it. For breakfast, we were lucky if we had cereal; however, milk on the cereal was not a possibility. We always had water on our cereal. To this day, I still eat my cereal with water. The first time my wife saw me do this, she thought I was kidding around. I wasn’t–old habits die hard. By the way, I’m not complaining. At least I had a roof over my head. Many kids back then (and now) have it worse than I did. So, no pity party here. I know God used my childhood of hunger and lack to give me the compassion and empathy to devote my life to feeding the homeless.
What was your profession before you became The SoupMan? How did you meet your first wife?
I worked in the insurance industry as a pension consultant. One day, as I was working in my office, a vibrant, dynamic, joyous young lady by the name of Peggy walked in. She was selling Xerox copiers. Not only did I buy one of her copiers, but within the year she blessed me by accepting my marriage proposal.
Tell about the years living in your RV, traveling from state to state in search of a cure for your wife Peggy, who was suffering from MS. Did you work? How did you pay the bills or health insurance?
As bad as Peggy’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was, it was even worse because the doctors told us there was NO cure. We were devastated. I decided right then and there that if we had to, we would travel to the ends of the earth to find a cure. What we ended up doing was not too far from that. That’s where the RV came in. We became nomads and used the RV to travel the country seeking a cure. Her disability prevented her from flying, and obviously, traveling by car long distances was not a viable option. And while the RV was the perfect vehicle for traveling from state to state, it wasn’t a piece of cake. I had to care for Peggy and run a slimmed down version of my pension consulting. Again, I’m not complaining; we were still able to pay the bills and Peggy’s health treatment was covered by Medicare disability insurance.
When did you give up life in the RV? Why did you decide to settle down in Dallas?
As nomads,we traveled the country looking for a cure. Dallas was just one of the stops along the way. Dallas has one of the top MS clinics in the country at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
When Peggy died unexpectedly in 2004, Dallas was just where we happened to be at the time.
After she died, I had to make a decision—stay in Dallas or perhaps head back to my old stomping grounds–Detroit. For about 3 months after her death, I continued to stay in Dallas and live in the RV. I quickly realized it would not work. Everywhere I looked, I saw something that reminded me of Peggy. And while I will never forget her (nor stop loving her), the constant daily reminders were just too painful. In her memory and honor, I sold the RV and donated all the proceeds to help buy food for the homeless.
When I sold the RV and after much prayer, I felt God was calling me to stay in Dallas working with the homeless. I did stay and I’m glad I did. Dallas is a great city full of loving and caring people. And, as a special bonus, that’s where I met my new wife Shana.
What did Peggy think about the SoupMobile and your early efforts to feed the homeless before she passed away in 2004?
Peggy loved the idea of the SoupMobile and feeding the homeless. She was an incredibly caring and loving person. Even though she had MS, she told me she felt blessed by the Lord and wanted the SoupMobile to help the homeless in any way we could. And while Peggy could not help “physically” with the SoupMobile, she was integral in many of the early planning sessions and gave me lots of encouragement to get it up and running. I still fondly think of Peggy every time I get into our mobile feeding van and turn the key in the ignition.
How does your family feel about Soupmobile now? – Are they active participants in the ministry?
Yes, I did remarry to an absolutely amazing woman by the name of Shana. She will never take the place of Peggy, but I know with 100 percent confidence that Peggy is up in heaven in the loving arms of Jesus, and looks down upon my marriage with Shana with love and affection, as I would do, had the situation been reversed.
As described in Chapter 18 of my book: Is God on Vacation?, Shana coming into my life was nothing short of a miracle. Shana and I will be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary October 18, and as I write in the dedication of my third book entitled, Forged By Christ, “Since saying our ‘I do’s, it’s been a terrific, fantastic, glorious, blissful, dazzling, marvelous, splendid, off-the-chain, wondrous and groovy ride.”
Shana is a bouncing ball of love and kindness. She wears her heart on her sleeve and loves both people and animals. She volunteers at the SoupMobile helping the homeless and is also active in animal rescues. I often joke that her passion for helping others makes me look like a slacker, but I thinks it’s absolutely true!
How do you balance ministry and family knowing the amount of time you put into Soupmobile?
For me, the SoupMobile is a 24/7 avocation. I live it, I breathe it, I love it, I thank the Lord every day he lets me do this. I don’t even consider it a job–it’s a passion. Thankfully, Shana and I are equally yoked in these efforts. She, too, is a 24/7 kind of person. Our SoupMobile ministry is part of the glue that holds us together. And, yes, we make time for fun things. We love to go to the theater, movies, dancing and just love hanging together. We are truly equally yoked thanks to the Lord Most High.
What are your hobbies outside of SoupMobile?
Hobbies? Aside from my time with Shana, I really don’t have any hobbies. I am so blessed by Shana and working with the homeless, I am VERY fulfilled. Every day I thank God for having the best job on the PLANET. For me, it’s not even work. It’s a JOY!
Do you see yourself retiring anytime soon?
That word is NOT in my vocabulary. Retire–Never! Ain’t gonna happen! I am on a mission from God, and as long as He lets me put one foot in front of the other, as long as He lets me wake up every morning, and as long as He lets me draw a breath of air, my life will be devoted to making sure the homeless “never walk alone.”
What advice do you have for people who want to feed the homeless, but do not know where to start?
Great question! I start by reminding them that Rome was not built in a day. Start small, learn the ropes and with Jesus leading the way, continue to expand the mission. This is how the SoupMobile started. In our first year, we served 5,000 meals, and at the time we thought that was a lot. Now, we serve more than 200,000 meals per year. We also have a shelter program with eight transitional group homes. We have the most magical Christmas event in the universe. We have a thrift store and now we are planning to build a church for the homeless. With Christ leading the way, we’ve come light years in the last 10 years. But it all started small and on a wing and a lot of prayers. The key is trusting the Lord to part the Red Sea. He is ever so faithful.
WANT TO VOLUNTEER?
SoupMobile feeds 600 meals every Monday through Friday. Volunteers are needed.
Food Service: Go out in the SoupMobile and serve the homeless.
Food Preparation: Assemble sandwiches and prepare soups, cookies, trail mix, and fruit cups for distribution.
Supply Delivery: Transfer donated items to and from the SoupMobile with your own vehicle.
Office Help: Prepare mailers, file forms, update database, conduct Internet research and answer phones
Volunteers may sign up for “Celebrate Jesus” starting Nov. 1 at www.soupmobile.org.
3017 Commerce Street
Dallas, TX 75226.
Email David Timothy, [email protected].
Jennifer Holland Jameson is a freelance writer based in Dallas, TX.