When Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham created his bigger than life Traveling Man Sculptures in Deep Ellum, little did he know that he would be the three degrees of connection with a homeless man named Gershon Trunnell and Dallas Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall. The connection would be Cynt’s “It Factor.”
That connection was recalled at The Stewpot Alliance’s 2023 Soup’s On! Luncheon on Monday, January 30, in the Thompson Hotel’s ballroom.
But before the revelation took place, the trio each shone in the reception — Luncheon Co-Chair Brad Oldham and his bride/creative partner/Luncheon Co-Chair Christy Coltrin admitting that the year-and-a-half of fundraising for The Stewpot had been gratifying; Gershon’s artistic works up for bids in the silent auction displayed with other Stewpot client’s artwork in the lobby alongside a parked Bentley; and Cynt who had never met a stranger nor left without a new best friend.
The lobby outside the ballroom was so filled with the sold-out crowd that it was hard to observe the remarkable works of art by Gershon, Teresa Zacarias, Charles William and other Stewpot clients. And, no, the Bentley was there just for looks and dreams, not for bids.
As Soup’s On! Chief Chef Brian Luscher rallied his troupe of 10 chefs Jeff Bekavac (Cane Rosso, Thunderbird and Zoli’s), Kevin Curry (Fit Men Cook), Janice Provost (Parigi), Javier Reyes (The Stewpot), Omar Flores (Muchacho and Whistlebritches), Danyele McPherson (Purple Collar Kitchen), Jeramie Robinson (Thompson Dallas), Anastacia Quiñones (José), Abraham Salum (Salum) and J. Chastain (Sister and The Charles) who had donated time and talent to the cause, Brian couldn’t help but tearing up talking about the need for providing for The Stewpot’s clients. For their reward, besides the applause of the crowd, the chefs would receive spoon sculptures from Brad and Christy and had their annual group photo.
But soon it was time to check the pots brimming with a dozen soups that would be served to the guests. As the clock ticked down for the meals to be served, the doors to the ballroom opened and guests found their way to their tables.
Mavs DJ/Soup’s On! Emcee Ivy Awino introduced First Presbyterian Church of Dallas Senior Pastor Rev. Amos Disasa for the invocation. He was followed by Christy and Brad, who welcomed the group and drew everyone’s attention to the whimsical Otter Guides centerpieces “depicting two otters taking care of each other, and the pansy in between is a physical manifestation of their compassion and a reminder to care for our neighbors.” Created by Brad and underwritten by Sutherlin Martin Family, the sale of the sculptures would 100% benefit The Stewpot.
Throughout the program, speakers admitted that the day of the event was “a good day for soup.” as the outside temperatures started dropping to the freezing mark. Little did the guests know that this condition would outlast even the weather guessers’ prediction of ending Wednesday.
But on this day it was a painful reminder that many of Dallas’ homeless were out in the cold without a warm meal. Even while The Stewpot Executive Director Brenda Snitzer appeared to be enjoying the fundraiser, she had already prepared for the inclement weather situation that would require her meal service team to sleep downtown to ensure no interruption in meals for client. They would also have “folks driving, doing other kinds of support for folks on the street getting to inclement weather shelters.”
For the chefs prepping the soups, the occasion wasn’t their first encounter with the need to help the homeless. Many times they had reached out to The Stewpot letting them know that they had extra food to share.
But even the best of efforts have a hiccup or two. Because of a snafu behind the scenes, the chefs found themselves regrouping to reheat their soups to be served to the guests.
And then there was the video that Brenda proudly introduced. The production team more than once… no, more than twice…started the video with no sound. Then when the audio was heard, there was no video. Finally, the presentation appeared with video and audio in sync, and the message came across telling about Gershon’s journey. After years away, he had returned to his grandmother’s home where he had spent much of his childhood only to find the house gone and only an overgrown lot. Setting up a tent, his daily wanderings came across Brad’s Walking Man series as well as The Stewpot, where he learned how creativity was a way to transition from helpless and homeless to hopeful and homebound.
Thanks to the various Stewpot programs, he flourished and eventually became a candidate for The Stewpot’s Rapid Rehousing.
Following the video, Cynt took the stage with her signature “Ain’t No Mountain” theme song rallying guests to their feet, then told them that before she was going to the “it” factor in facing the challenges of domestic violence in her childhood, hunger and homelessness, there were three ground rules:
- Tell your neighbor you’re glad you’re here.
- Let me know you’re out there.
- Turn on your cellphones and take pictures.
She told a story about a man who was walking home one night and heard a girl being attacked. He was fearful for his own safety and thought about running for help. But he changed his mind and took on the man, who ran off. Knowing that the girl was cowering behind a tree, he calmly told her that the man was gone and she had nothing to fear. Her response was, “Is that you, Daddy?” Yes, he had saved his own daughter.
Cynt then told her own story of being born in Birmingham, Alabama, where her mother attended the 16th Street Baptist Church Church that was the scene of the tragic 1963 bombing. After the bombing, the family moved to Richmond, California, where times were tough. There were days when their mother fed her children but wouldn’t eat. The kids didn’t realize it was because there was no food.
When she was 11, she saw her father shoot a man in the head in self-defense and found herself being escorted by a uniformed police officer to school when she was in the seventh grade.
Years later her parents divorced with Cynt, her mother and siblings finding themselves homeless for the summer. When they got home, their father had more or less cleaned out the house.
But her father wasn’t out of her life. It was when her mother was in the hospital after a beating from her husband that he broke Cynt’s nose. She was humiliated wearing a brace on her nose until the principal and three teachers turned things around encouraging her and helping her go to college.
At that point in Cynt’s story, she asked all the teachers and educators in the room to stand. Then she asked everyone to stand as “Ain’t No Mountain” played.
Unfortunately, many of the guests took this as a sign that the program was over and headed for the door. For those who stayed, they learned Cynt’s “It factor:” Investing in people.
As guests waited for their cars, it became obvious that the Arctic blast had arrived. While “Brenda’s Bunch” kicked into action to care for their clients, lucky were the guests who took home the “Soup’s On! 2023 Recipe Book” presented by foodies’ go-to H-E-B/Central Market with recipes of the day’s soups created by the 2023 Soup’s On! chefs including Brian’s legendary, to-die-for “The Grape’s Famous Mushroom Soup.” In the days ahead, those recipes would be put to use.
PS — For those last-minute sweethearts in need of something other than candy and flowers, Christy and Brad sent word that there are still a few of the cuddly Otter Guides looking for huggable homes for Valentine’s Day.