The Dallas Examiner
“My dream of assisting the homeless began after I lived in several domestic abuse shelters as a child with my mother many years ago,” South Dallas restaurateur and volunteer Paulette Woods humbly began in a prepared statement.
Woods, along with her husband Marcel, is the owner of Trucker’s Café at 1910 Martin Luther King Blvd. Part of her mission in serving the public includes opening her restaurant every year on Thanksgiving and Christmas to feed impoverished local residents.
Through Trucker’s Food 4 Soul, her 501(c)(3) nonprofit established in June, the small-business owner also collects financial and material donations to serve the needs of those in the neighborhood. Woods also bucks the restaurant trend by closing her eatery between the peak hours of noon to 1:30 p.m. every Monday to provide free meals to those who would otherwise go without.
As homelessness increases nationally in major metropolitan areas such as DFW, and the number of Black individuals living on streets or in shelters averages the highest homeless demographic by three times, Woods said she has had the unfortunate blessing to achieve her dream consistently.
Despite the constant challenge to help others in need, she refused to back down as long as her faith held strong and her own similar experiences in a shelter remained fresh in her mind.
“It was kind of rough at times,” she admitted about the past she and her mother endured. “We stayed in the women’s battered shelter.
“When the parents – they had to take time for cooking and doing all of that – so I started baby-sitting for them. I started cooking.”
She said she was 15 or 16 when she prepared her first dinner for the large group, which was spaghetti and peach cobbler.
She described seeing several injured women and hearing many of their stories as she attended the same classes and sessions as the adults.
“It was very hard. … I’m watching all these women in so much pain, so I thought, ‘What can I do to help take that load off them?’ because some of them [were] in there with broken ribs and couldn’t hardly even get up or whatever.”
After her success with the spaghetti dinner, the teen became an eager volunteer chef.
“Nobody taught me to cook. I just got in the kitchen, and I just took it upon myself to start cooking,” she recalled. “I got the peach cobbler off a Crisco grease can.”
Woods confessed the road from the shelter to a restaurant was not an easy journey, but she would not give up in achieving her vision of improving the lives of those in need. She was able to secure a loan while living in a housing project and worked a variety of jobs to generate a steady flow of income.
Eventually, a contact that Woods called Ms. Bourne provided a vacant business location where she could set up shop. Permits and a new grill were part of the package.
“She was like, ‘Well, OK – why don’t you just go ahead and move in my place and once you start making money then you can just pay me back monthly, plus the rent,’” she voiced.
That first effort, called Safari Blue, eventually closed. After a while, Woods relocated her business to a nearby truck stop and called it Trucker’s. After nearly a decade, their restaurant settled into its current location.
Originally, the couple and their daughter passed out air conditioning units, sandwiches and footwear in the summer to those in need. After the relocation to MLK Boulevard, she realized shutting down the restaurant on one day might better serve the most people.
“We just close down Monday and just reserve a day or so for the homeless and less fortunate parents that can’t even survive out here on the income they’re doing,” she confirmed.
She noted that she has people show up from as far as Lancaster, DeSoto and Plano.
“I don’t turn down nobody,” she asserted.
Woods remarked that she knew she would always do such work, but she did pause to share the moment she realized that the labor she put into her community was unquestionably vital.
“I had a person that I actually took off the street,” she said. “She was a child herself, having a baby and just cold, thin … I said right there. I’m fixing to do something to help. There’s too many people out here; that could lead to just opening up doors to a whole bunch.”
She and her husband decided to take the young woman into their home.
“And now she’s doing good, got her a steady job, got her own place – and I probably help a lot of people in here, help them get a place and do all of that stuff, a job or whatever we can help in,” she added.
Trucker’s now has Facebook fans from as far away as Hong Kong who log in to witness its good works. Along with food, the restaurant is a focal point in the community for those in need of school clothes, backpacks, toiletries, trash bags, rain ponchos, soap and other items.
Trucker’s has “adopted” 10 families for this holiday season and will host a Christmas party for them Dec. 23 with food baskets and toys for the children. The day after, the café will present an entire nursing home with house shoes, gowns and fruit baskets. On Christmas Day, Trucker’s will feed 300 homeless men and women, as well as provide them with new shoes, blankets and towels, among other items.
But the entrepreneur might be taking a break soon. After two years at the current location, the restaurant may have to move again. The nonprofit CitySquare has purchased the entire strip that houses the café – including the former Black Forest Theater – and will convert the area into a community theater, children’s classrooms and a recording studio, according to Woods.
She said she is considering opening a lounge or grill in the summer of 2019, as well as a food truck business. But the break from the restaurant business will not be a break from caring for those who are in need around her.
“We’re just one and it takes a village,” Woods considered as she discussed the donations she accepts at her business and online at https://tcfood4soul.org.
“Every little bit helps. We have a lot of homeless people out here. We’ve got a lot of people this month alone on the verge of being two steps off the street.”