By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Shannon resident Joe White isn’t homeless nor does he even consider himself down on his luck, but he still spends most weekday mornings sitting among Tupelo’s homeless population when they’re having a hot meal.
He’s known to a half-dozen or more regulars at the Saints’ Brew breakfast at All Saints’ Episcopal Church who hit low spots in life.
Most volunteers there recognize White’s presence but know little about him.
A few of the volunteers’ eyes widened recently after learning more about the man, even calling him a gift from God.
When White leaves work in the packaging department at the Daily Journal at 3 a.m. or so most weekdays, he either travels home or drives directly to his daughter’s Tupelo home and stays until time to drive his three grandchildren to school.
But then he picks up two or three other passengers in the city, men without a home, much less transportation, and chauffeurs them breakfast, ensuring them at least one hot meal for the day.
White, 56, low-key and nonchalant, says he can do more to help others – and does.
He stays many days until serving ends at the church and helps fold chairs, saving volunteers time.
But his service to others extends beyond breakfast. A handful of homeless folks with no place to go occasionally call White, who will pick them up, if able.
He drives them to a temporary location but sometimes will take let them sleep in his living room. Cautious, White sleeps in the living room, too.
Sometimes, these people with nowhere else to go sleep in White’s car. He’ll also sleep in the car with them.
He said explaining why he does all of this is hard to say.
“If I’m out somewhere and see someone in need, I try to have a heart and help them out,” he said Friday, sitting at a breakfast table.
White knows his good intentions could lead to trouble if an ill-intentioned person entered his car or house but he still takes the risk.
“I’m not perfect at it, but I’m a pretty good judge of character,” he said. “If I feel uncomfortable with it, I don’t give them a ride.”
So far, no one has tried to harm him.
On this particular day, White provided one man a ride to the breakfast, but others shared their stories about the man who cares. A 19-year-old regular at the church breakfast lived on the streets for close to a year.
He recalls not wanting to sleep on a park bench a few nights and contacted White, who drove the teenager around and listened to his problems. Now the teenager and his fiancee have temporary housing with friends, but White still provides the occasional ride.
From a large family scattered through Northeast Mississippi and beyond, White considers many people he helps extended family. Along with his daughter, he has two sons, both serving in the military.
White said he doesn’t mind using his modest income to pay for gas to take people, often strangers, an extra mile.
“If my son had a hard time or needed a ride, maybe somebody would give him a ride or help him out,” White said.
Longtime Saints’ Brew breakfast volunteer Betty Lee Marshall said she never realized White brought hungry people in need for meals but marveled at his compassion.
“I don’t really know him,” she said. “But he seems like an angel.”