By LOIS KINDLE
Kenny Williams’ labor of love is grilling hot dogs for the homeless. Every Tuesday evening, he drives to Tampa with his grilling cart in tow and makes the rounds to nine different stops in the downtown area and up Nebraska Avenue.
He works his way from Tampa to Seffner, Riverview, Gibsonton on his way back home, then through Wimauma and Ruskin. He usually gets home around 2 a.m.
“Last [Tuesday] I fed 200 people and gave away 600 hot dogs,” Willaims said, adding the highest number he’s ever served in a week is 281.
Since 2018, when he started his nonprofit God’s Dogs, he’s only missed two rounds due to his coming down with COVID.
The 54-year-old Ruskin resident and native Floridian said over the years he’s cooked and given away 100,000 franks, which he keeps track of with a clicker, he said. Six to 10 volunteers from his church and other churches, plus two homeless guys come to help each week. One of the latter has turned out three years and the other 18 months.
In early 2016, Williams helped start Redeemer City Church in Tampa Heights, just north of downtown Tampa. The Salvation Army was just across the street, where homeless people hung out waiting for a bed. He said he got to know some of them after they began coming to the church.
“We started making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for them every Tuesday, and the numbers of homeless just kept growing,” said Williams. “Before we knew it, we were making 300 sandwiches every week.”
A friend recommended he read Misfits Welcome: Find Yourself in Jesus and Bring the World Along for the Ride by Matthew Barnett.
“One of the chapters talked about a couple who had hotdog carts, [had] just moved to a new town [and] decided to go out to feed the homeless,” Williams said. “That clicked for me. I found a cheap cart on Facebook Marketplace that needed a ton of work, and on the way home I spotted a gas grill someone had placed by the road with all the parts I needed.
“That’s how God is. He provides, and ever since that’s how it’s been,” Williams said.
More to the story
Williams is a former farmer who retired after a life-threatening injury in 2017 forever changed his life.
“I was clearing land with dynamite and the entire left side of my body was severely injured in a blast,” he said. “I lost my hand and after waiting for an ambulance to arrive, I was helicoptered off to Tampa General Hospital. I almost died.
Williams underwent seven surgeries and became despondent about his future.
“An angel in the form of a nurse saw me and said, ‘You look like you need me to pray with you.’”
Through that simple act of kindness, the nurse helped him change his mindset “from depression to a hopeful, can-do attitude. All that darkness and fear disappeared.
“God provides,” he added. “Somehow I had signed up for a death and dismemberment package offered through Suncoast Credit Union as a membership benefit. I forgot I had ever done that. Within days I had $150,000 to help pay for my medical bills.”
Williams wears an artificial limb that attaches below the elbow and bionic hand covered by insurance after co-pays. He wears the hand only when he dresses up, he said.
The only thing he mourns these days is the loss of his ability to play the bass guitar at church.
Williams said the only reason he’s able to continue his Tuesday night rounds is his wife, Rachel, a medical doctor with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa. They’ve been married 30 years and have two grown children.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
Williams has received grants from the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center and Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and cash donations from the Ruskin Eagles and others, all of which help him pay for bottled water, hotdogs and the propane he needs to grill them. Otherwise, he pays for it all out of pocket.
Pepperidge Farms provides day-old bread, and he receives donations of bottled water.
Williams said he’s grateful for any support he receives, whether it comes in the form of volunteers, cash or an in-kind donation.
“God has been so good to me,” he continued. “He’s delivered me from near divorce, drug problems and my accident, and so much more. I wish earlier in life I had known what a blessing it is to give to and serve others.
“Why I’m doing this now is to share God’s love, one hotdog at a time,” Williams said. “The sign on his cart says, ‘Free hotdogs and prayer. Matthew 25:35.’”