Andrew Dys

Rock Hill to honor Brother David Boone for 50 years service

Thursday was ham day. And greens day, and black-eyed peas day, and three kinds of cake and cornbread day, at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen.

Dozens poured in, almost all black in this neighborhood. But not all, because hunger has no color, and this place on Crawford Road in Rock Hill feeds lunch six days a week to anyone who shows up. Nobody has ever, in 26 years, been asked what religion they practice, or what brought them in, be it feet or bicycle or jalopy.

All people are asked is: “Want dessert with that?”

No one is screened, grilled or badgered. Brother David Boone, who started this soup kitchen in 1986, never has allowed questions and, at 79, never will.

“The reason this place is, is to feed those who are hungry,” said Boone, a Catholic Brother from Rock Hill’s Oratory. “There is no other reason. No other reason is necessary.”

Friday night, Boone will be honored for 50 years of service to Rock Hill’s poorest and hungriest. Boone will go, even though he doesn’t want the attention. But he wants to serve, and so he went to the soup kitchen Thursday, as he has a thousand days before. Boone founded the soup kitchen and still has a crew that works it as volunteers on Fridays. But surely he is there almost every other day, too, six days a week.

Dozens, almost 70 people, ate lunch Thursday. It is just after the first of the month, after government checks have come out, so the line is a bit shorter than at the end of the month, or in winter, when the line may double in size.

At one table at the far end of Bannon Hall sat a man named Terry Thomas who has been there before. He has eaten there when it was all he had that day. Thursday was one of those days.

“Brother David, I bet half the people who come here wouldn’t stand a chance if it wasn’t for that man,” said Thomas. “Brother David? He is our friend.”

Brother David Boone did not hear the words because about 20 other people were too busy saying hello to him, and he to them, in a side room. A man named Ronnie White, long retired from Winthrop University who was helping sort photos for tonight’s testimonial dinner, said, “Brother David helped me have the life I have had. How do I thank him for a whole life?”

Boone got up from the motorized cart he has used since foot surgery last year, as he hates compliments. He stuck his head into the serving room, saw the line, and grabbed plates to pass to the Tirzah Presbyterian Church volunteers who had this particular Thursday shift. More than two dozen churches and community groups take a shift or two a month, volunteering to cook and serve, at this place that is one living legacy of many of Brother David Boone.

This place, a Catholic building, has people of all faiths who volunteer to serve the hungry.

“Ham?” asked Jan Shillinglaw of a person without a home, after she took a plate from Boone, who told the man to come back to see him for more help.

“Black-eyed peas?” asked Olin Nichols, volunteer, getting a nod as those peas looked and smelled great.

Sarah Holmes handed out the cake slices. “That Brother David. What a man he is,” she said during a short lull.

Boone has been at St. Mary Catholic Church across the street for almost 53 years.

The event will have blacks and whites together, as that is Boone’s whole life. A white Catholic from Kentucky, Boone marched with blacks before, during and after civil rights protests and for years was Rock Hill’s most despised white civil rights protester. He integrated the city’s parks and recreation department despite death threats. He coached the all-black teams and drove kids to the beach and mountains. He petitioned, and argued, and got running water for black neighborhoods after a man had walked on the moon.

He ate thousands of dinners alone, as for decades, no white except a few other Catholics from The Oratory and a few white parishioners at St. Mary would sit with Boone.

Boone did not flinch.

After attitudes changed, slowly, he kept at helping the poorest and hungriest and those without means. He still keeps at it.

“There is work to be done, so I do what I can,” Boone said in the serving line, chuckling, smiling, because that is all this man knows how to do.

He has fought cancer and still fights leukemia, but nobody in the line to eat knows because Boone does not talk about it. The city has honored him with a day and a building in the past, and the state of South Carolina with the Order of the Palmetto. Nobody eating lunch Thursday heard of any of it because Boone never talks of it.

Boone’s response to belated but appreciated thanks from the people and parts of the city who once shunned him is to go each day to the soup kitchen, and help coordinate that Friday crew as he will today, and feed anybody who comes in.

Friday night, Boone will greet all who clap for him and thank him and he will be thankful and honored and as always humbled and embarrassed.

But first, he will work Friday’s lunch at the soup kitchen. Only after the black and brown and white poor eat, together, will Brother David Boone go to a dinner honoring him.