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Everyday Hero: Stewpot volunteer knows struggles of hungry patrons

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Kirk Johnson, left, and David Lewis prepare meals to be delivered at Stewpot Thursday morning. David Lewis has spent the past 21 years working as a volunteer at Stewpot. Lewis first started delivering the meals and now helps to fill the plates. Stewpot prepares around 385 plates a day. “God left me here to continue helping others,” said the 87 year old.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Kirk Johnson, left, and David Lewis prepare meals to be delivered at Stewpot Thursday morning. David Lewis has spent the past 21 years working as a volunteer at Stewpot. Lewis first started delivering the meals and now helps to fill the plates. Stewpot prepares around 385 plates a day. “God left me here to continue helping others,” said the 87 year old.

NATCHEZ — Twenty-one years ago, David Lewis began as a deliveryman with the Natchez Stewpot under the supervision of George Nelson.

Nelson made a lasting impression on Lewis, 87, and 21 years later, Lewis is still helping feed the hungry, though he’s now assisting in the kitchen instead of going to people’s houses.

“He showed me how to treat people,” Lewis said of Nelson. “He didn’t care how poor you were, he gave you the utmost respect, like you were a king.”

The Stewpot prepares and serves food to between 260 and 300 people, approximately 125 of which are delivered. Food is served to locals who can’t prepare food for themselves — the ill, elderly and handicapped — as well as anyone who comes into the Stewpot wanting a meal.

Lewis has been volunteering at the Stewpot on a daily basis ever since he retired from Wholesome Bread. He said he enjoys coming into the Stewpot every day — though he admitted it’s not always easy dealing with people who come in to eat.

“I try to do the same (as Nelson), but it’s a hard job,” Lewis said. “You’re dealing with some people that have threatened to slap me or get me fired. Sometimes you lose your cool, but I know how it is being without food.”

Lewis explained how he lost his mother when he was 1, his father when he was 5 and his aunt, who had been taking care of him, when he was 16.

“I’ve been on my own from 16 until now,” Lewis said. “Some days I missed meals, some days I skipped meals and some days there were no meals.”

But Lewis has been married to his wife, DeElle, for 63 years, with whom he had five children. Two have since died, but two are working as engineers and one is a registered nurse. Though things were tough at times, Lewis said his faith in God helped carry him through.

“The Good Lord has always taken care of me,” Lewis said. “I’ve been blessed with everything I need and 99 1/2 percent of the things I want.”

God’s goodness toward Lewis is why Lewis said he wants to give to others who are in need. He cited Matthew 25:40 as a motivational verse about giving.

“Jesus says what you do to the least of my brothers, you do for me,” Lewis said. “It’s a good feeling helping someone. I believe in treating everyone right, regardless of whether they’re rich, poor, black, white, Jew or Gentile.”

Johnnie Davis, who oversees the kitchen at the Stewpot, said she’s admired Lewis’ heart for people for a long time.

“If not for him, I wouldn’t be working here,” Davis said. “He’s behind me a lot, and he’s like a brother. He’s good to be around. When he doesn’t come, I’ll call him to see where he is. He makes me laugh, and when I’m sad, he brings me back to life.”

Davis also said she appreciates how Lewis handles when people get angry with him.

“He’s really good with people,” she said. “I know they get on his nerves sometimes, but he’ll say a prayer and brush it off and keep going. He tells me not to worry about what other people say, and that’s good, because sometimes what people do makes you mad up in here.”

Lewis said everyone at the Stewpot takes his or her work seriously, and no dish is ever put together with a half-hearted effort.

“You don’t just throw something together,” Lewis said. “It’s all hand-cooked, and it’s a balanced meal with meat, vegetables, bread and dessert.”