Wilbur "Bookie" Coleman, 7, inspired his mother, Cheree, to start feeding the homeless last year when he asked what they could do to help the people he saw in the street near their home. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

At 7 years old, Wilbur Coleman III, commonly known as “Bookie,” can say he is the founder of his own company.

“This was all his idea,” said Chereè Coleman, Bookie’s mother and co-founder of Bookie and Mommy’s Helping Hand, a Black-owned, family nonprofit organization that helps feed El Paso’s homeless.

Chereè Coleman said the business idea originated in December 2020 after she had to explain what homelessness is to her then 6-year-old son.

“I told him, ‘Some people don’t have any dinner’ and he said, ‘Well, can we bring them dinner?’ And that’s how it got started,” Coleman said.

Chereè Coleman cleans the face of her son, Wilbur, 7. Wilbur plans menus and helps his mother distribute food to the homeless in El Paso every week. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

After that conversation, Bookie started suggesting meals they could make to feed the homeless. The Colemans will celebrate the one-year anniversary of Bookie and Mommy’s Helping Hand next month. They are raising money through a GoFundMe account.

“It started with just making 10 dinners and then went from 10 to sometimes 50 dinners every Sunday or Wednesday,” Coleman said.

Every week, Bookie and Chereè Coleman create a menu that is mainly inspired by the 7-year-old’s culinary choices. They spend Sunday afternoons cooking and distributing the food and save leftovers for what they call “Wasteless Wednesdays,” when they distribute leftovers from the previous meal.

“They (the homeless) know my car when I pull up. They know to get into a line, spread out, and nobody cuts the line,” Coleman said.

As a nonprofit, Coleman said she relies on donations, grants and food banks to supply the food. For the upcoming holidays, the business plans on cooking a Thanksgiving meal that will feature seasonal favorites that include turkey and sweet potato pie.

“The holidays is the time where people miss their family the most,” Coleman said. “If we can just give them a little bit of comfort through a meal, that would not ease the pain but maybe make them less sad.”

Wilbur “Bookie” Coleman, 7, stands in his kitchen on Nov. 17. Wilbur spent the early months of the pandemic collecting and donating sanitizing supplies before convincing his mother to start feeding the homeless in El Paso. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Bookie said it makes him happy to give back.

Originally from Detroit, Chereè Coleman said she remembers how she and her family lived in a homeless shelter at one point during her childhood.

“I stayed in the shelter as a kid with my mom,” she said. “I remember people coming in and giving us stuff. But then there would be times where people didn’t make it inside the shelter (before it closed) and would be left out on the street.”

Coleman said it’s important for her son to learn that the homeless are people just like everyone else and shouldn’t be treated differently.

“They still have family somewhere … that’s somebody’s child, mother, sister, brother,” she said.

As a first grader, Bookie said he understands that “they’re people just like me.”

As they’ve fed El Paso’s homeless the last 11 months, Coleman said some of the regular beneficiaries of the business have started calling her “Miss Mama.” She said it can be hard to set boundaries and not develop personal relationships with them.

Chereè Coleman makes sandwiches for the homeless in her kitchen on Nov. 17. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

But one thing that keeps her motivated is seeing those regulars’ health improve after being able to eat more often.

“When we first started, there was one guy that we could see his jawline and his eye sockets, but now his face is getting fuller,” Coleman said.

As he looks toward the future, Bookie said he wants a bigger truck so they can load and pass out more meals.

Cover photo: Wilbur “Bookie” Coleman, 7, inspired his mother, Chereè, to start feeding the homeless last year when he asked what they could do to help the people he saw in the street near their home. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Jewél Jackson covers higher education for El Paso Matters, through a partnership with Open Campus Media. She is a 2020 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.