GAIL WHITE Stepping across the street to discover friends

Each morning, when I pull into the parking lot across from The Vindicator, I see a cluster of people standing outside the St. Vincent DePaul Society building.
Many of the faces change from day to day. Many simply blend into the crowd. But two of those faces stand out as I pass by.
Both are older gentlemen, seemingly in their late 50s and 60s. One is a silver-haired white man with glasses. The other is a curly haired black man who usually dons a hat.
Each waves a friendly hello to me as I walk into work.
We have discussed the weather, oftentimes yelling our comments across busy Front Street.
I have rushed by the two men with short quips about being late as they chuckle at my haste.
They have even saved me from certain disaster by yelling to me that I have left my car lights on.
They are two friendly faces that I enjoy seeing every morning -- I can count on seeing them just as sure as Jimmy, the newspaper's daytime security guard.
But, unlike Jimmy, I never knew who they were.
Until one morning, waving my friendly hello, I crossed the street to meet these two men.
Getting acquainted
Ed Knapp and James Gamble arrive in front of the St. Vincent DePaul Society building every morning and wait for the doors to open so they can stand in line and receive a free, hearty meal.
"The doors open at 10:30," James informs me. "They start serving at 10:45."
"Monday is mashed potatoes and meatloaf," James continues. "Other days it varies."
"Do you come every day?" I ask.
"Every day but Wednesdays," James explains. "They're closed on Wednesdays."
As big as James' wave has been from across the street, up close he is shy and slow to speak. I am barely able to see his eyes under his cap.
James is divorced with two grown children. He is a jack-of-all-trades kind of fellow, spending his working years doing every kind of handyman jobs.
Now, at 56, he rents a room in a house on the city's South Side. For more than 15 years, he has crossed the Market Street bridge everyday and walked more than a mile to St. Vincent DePaul.
"It's my biggest meal of the day," he tells me.
After talking with him a while, I learn that his St. Vincent DePaul meal is his only meal of the day.
Making ends meet
Ed is as jovial up close as he seemed from across the street.
He is intelligent and well-read. (He reads my column!)
Ed is twice married and twice divorced with three children who all live out of town.
He worked many years for the Cooper Tire & amp; Rubber Co. and later worked as a civilian at the Lima Army Tank Plant.
At 62, Ed lives in the International Towers, downtown. He has walked down the street to St. Vincent for four years.
"I don't have the kind of income that I can afford to live like I did at one time," Ed explains.
His meal at St. Vincent helps him make ends meet.
"There was a time when I wasn't working or receiving retirement yet, and then it was a necessity," he shares.
Even now that his retirement has kicked in, he admits, "Sometimes, this is the main meal that I have of the day."
New friends
Standing and talking with my new friends, I notice the doorway to St. Vincent becoming more crowded.
Ed and James greet many as they gather. Their easy-going, friendly manner is shared with all.
I wave goodbye and head down the sidewalk to work. My steps are slow. My thoughts are racing.
So many times, I have not crossed the street. I have stayed safely on "my side" and waved at a distance.
In crossing, I learned that although the personal struggles vary, the human spirit is the same.
But there is no way to recognize the similarities until you cross the street.

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