A homeless man, Tony Romo and 'a flashing neon sign from God'

Hungry for some leftover turkey?

Actually, this story from the Houston Chronicle is a Thanksgiving feast — an absolute delight from the newspaper's holiday front page last Thursday.

It's an amazing profile of a formerly homeless man who is now "paying and praying it forward," as the Chronicle describes it.

Let's start at the top with a longer-than-normal chunk of the story. I apologize for the length, but this superb intro sets the scene for the entire piece:

Bobby Depper slips his arm through the straps of a backpack. Then another. And another, until five are piled on his back like a stack of pancakes. It’s a 30-minute walk to the train station, then a 35-minute ride to north Houston. Depper doesn’t fidget with the bags or sit down on the empty train. He just grabs a handrail and waits for his work to begin.
Off the train, Depper bounds toward a strip of grass between a Wal-Mart and a parking lot, where a group of men sit on the ground beneath a cluster of trees. This is how he spends his days: searching for homeless people, giving them backpacks and, if they’re willing, treating them to meals. He has given away hundreds of backpacks in the last several months. Demand never dwindles.
Depper remembers when he needed a backpack.
Five years ago, he slept beneath a pile of newspapers in a Dumpster behind a Dallas restaurant, his clothes and medicine water-logged.
“I was just so angry, and I said, if (God) is real, I guess I’ll shout out at him. If he’s real, I guess he’ll hear me now,” Depper recalls. When he woke the next morning, he couldn’t see out of his right eye. He crawled out of the garbage and asked the restaurant’s valet for spare change so he could catch a bus to the hospital. Depper was an addict at the time, so parts of the morning are hazy. But he says he’ll never forget what happened next. A man stepped out of a car in the valet line.
“He said not to give me any change, and I thought, ‘How could anyone say that?’” Depper recalls. “But then I turned around and he was handing me a $100 bill.”
The man was Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who asked Depper to “pay it forward.”
Romo remembers giving the $100 bill to Depper. It’s the kind of thing the quarterback does sometimes, though Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said Romo “isn’t really comfortable talking about it publicly.”
It was a quiet act for Romo. But for Depper, it was a flashing neon sign from God.

Now, at this point, I wondered if the Chronicle might drop the ball on the religion angle. After all, Romo was the one making the pass, and he couldn't seem to find his receivers on Thanksgiving. (I kid, I kid, just to annoy my many friends who bleed navy, silver and white.)

Seriously, regular GetReligion readers know that mainstream media often dash right past references to "God."

Not to worry: The Houston newspaper does an exceptional job of ghostbusting:

Depper’s quest is tethered to Christianity. His favorite Bible verse is Matthew 25:40, in which Jesus says that what is done to the least of his brothers is done to him. When someone says they need help finding a job, Depper gives him the phone number of a friend who’s hiring. He has purchased shoes and socks for men and women he met on sidewalks, and school supplies for a father and 8-year-old son. Earlier this fall, when he met a young man who needed pants for a job interview, Depper took him to Wal-Mart.
Depper’s is a grass-roots effort. Prayer groups at the Church of St. John the Divine in River Oaks, one of Houston’s wealthiest, donated many of the backpacks stored on shelves in Depper’s apartment. The bedroom is so crowded with supplies that Depper sleeps on the couch in the living room. He came upon St. John’s by accident. The Episcopal church sits across the street from a UPS Store on Westheimer, where Depper keeps a mailbox to receive packages from friends and supporters who donate gift cards and other items. He attended his first service there in the late spring.

The piece even ends with a holy note:

Moments later, Depper comes upon two men at a street corner carrying all their possessions in deteriorating shopping bags. They beam when Depper approaches them, loaded down with backpacks.
One of the men says, “I was just thinking, ‘Lord, I need a backpack.’”

Even if you don't normally enjoy leftovers, trust me: This journalistic feast is worth your time.

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