South Dallas residents deliver brunch to their unhoused neighbors

By Sriya Reddy - May 20, 2020

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Co-published by our media partner, The Dallas Weekly

Turkey bacon, French toast, muffins and even quiche. 

Such brunch fare is just a sampling of the smorgasbord Shanay Wise and a group of volunteers serve the “unhoused population,” as Wise describes them, at CitySquare’s Church at the Square

Every Sunday, the unhoused community is invited to come together and worship at CitySquare’s South Dallas Opportunity Center. Afterward, they head outdoors for lunch. One Sunday a month, Wise and other volunteers are waiting for them with trays lined up buffet-style, filled with brunch goodies.

Church at the Square’s worship services, like many others in the Dallas area, currently are cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines.

“I was really having a hard time with that. I know how much they appreciated us coming in and serving brunch, although it was just once a month,” Wise says. “I was just like, ‘Oh, what am I gonna do.’ I wanted to be able to bless them.”

So instead of the unhoused community coming to them, Wise took it upon herself to go to the community. She partnered with Volunteering While Black, and traveled around South Dallas to find people who needed food for the stomach and for the soul.

Wise started a catering company called Catering Done Wisely in 2008 in honor of her grandmother, who loved the kitchen just as much as Wise does. She began serving brunch at Church in the Square in 2016, the year she began working at CitySquare. Wise teaches in CitySquare’s food service and hospitality program, and likes to spoil her unhoused neighbors with the kind of food served at nice restaurants.

More than just serving food, though, Wise built relationships with the people she serves. The bank foreclosed on her home 2013, and after being homeless and living in shelters, Wise knows what it feels like to be in their shoes. While she serves, Wise makes sure to listen to the unhoused community. 

“It is our opportunity, as people that may not necessarily be on the streets, to be able to sit down and hear their story,” Wise says.

Wise still lived in a shelter when she began working at CitySquare. She believed that her situation was not as bad as others’ and was determined to treat those less fortunate with dignity.

“I wanted to treat people the opposite of the way I was being treated,” Wise says. “To be frank, I didn’t have anybody really advocating, or wanting to help my family. I know what that is like.”

For the brunch delivery, Wise reached out to King Shakur, who founded the nonprofit organization Volunteering While Black. The South Dallas neighbors have worked together many times and both believe in giving back to the community, but right now they want to do it safely. 

Shakur calls service “life work.”

“If you’re called to serve, you step up,” Shakur says. “Yes, it’s meaningful to be able to go out there and help my fellow brothers and sisters. But if there was COVID or not, we still have an unhoused population in DFW. That’s a problem that we need to focus on. Poverty is real.”

Shakur and his organization volunteer throughout the DFW area. Recently, on Mother’s Day, they handed out fanny packs with essential items like hand sanitizer, a first aid kit and sanitary wipes to mothers. 

Shakur realizes the importance of staying safe during this time, so every time volunteers go into the community, masks, gloves and distance aremandatory. They took proper safety precautions when they served brunch, but also made sure to spend time with people.

“We spent a couple hours, not just passing out the brunch, but also we dialogue with people,” Shakur says. “We are big on making sure we look at people in their eyes and not treating them as less.”

Photo by Darciea Houston

One of Wise’s former CitySquare students, Beverly Horne, used to volunteer regularly with Wise to serve food at Church at the Square. She is planning on joining the team to feed neighbors this coming Sunday, May 24.

“The first benefit is giving them a hot meal,” Horne says. “Letting them know that somebody does care. Somebody cares about their well-being. Somebody cares about them getting a balanced meal.”

When Horne returns to volunteering on May 24, she is most looking forward to seeing familiar faces among the unhoused population.

“If you go once a month, you are going to recognize some of the people,” Horne says. “I haven’t been in a while, so seeing the people … I promise you,they recognize you, they know you. They may not know your name, but they recognize you.”

Although there is a pandemic right now, Wise says that you can still be there for your community, as long as you are careful. 

“I don’t want people to feel like, because of the pandemic, that they can’t give back,” Wise says. “You can. You just have to be safe, and you have to be smart. It’s important that we give back right now.”


How you can help

Meet at the Forest Theater, 1918 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 24, to join Catering Done Wisely and Volunteering While Black to serve brunch to the unhoused community.

They are accepting the following food donations now through Saturday, May 23:

10 loaves of bread

8 lbs of salted butter

1 case of eggs (30 dozen)

20 lbs of bacon (turkey/pork)

2 10-lb bags of sugar

2 16-oz bags of shredded cheese

4 64-oz containers of syrup

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