J.R. Dalton grew up on the west side of Indianapolis, an area known by the people who inhabit it as drug infested and a place where crime is common. "I lived in the neighborhood all my life," Dalton says before adding that the neighborhood isn't the nicest place.
Heather O'Keefe, an Indianapolis resident says that she "will not carry money in this neighborhood." She adds that "the neighborhood is horrible. It's nothing but prostitutes and drug dealers."
Shirley Schell says that "you can almost pick out the houses that have drug dealers in them."
As a way of improving and giving back to his hometown community, Dalton runs a soup kitchen three times a week on Ketcham Avenue, along with a food pantry on Saturdays on 10th St., where he and volunteers give away multiple bags of food to hundreds of people, plus a secondhand clothing and toy store, the proceeds from which benefit his food-based charities.
Over at Dalton's Place, Dalton's weekly food pantry located at 3326 West 10th Street, nearly 70 people line up by 9 a.m. A Hispanic nightclub, Fandango's, separates a parking lot of potholes from Dalton's Place. A few buildings down from the food pantry, a pawn shop stands near an intersection. In line, there's a Hispanic family with four or five children running around, a young black couple who appear to be in their mid to late twenties, a white couple who appear to be in their early fifties, and about fifty or so others. The young black man has a teardrop tattoo below his right eye, and the young woman he's with has a tattoo on her right arm reading R.I.P.
On the wall of the nightclub facing Dalton's Place's parking lot,there is a sign from Dalton's Used Tires and Batteries reading: Buy a tire and feed a family. On the front entrance to the building, there's an article recognizing Dalton for his charitable work. Next to that, there's a sign reading: "If you need help, call J.R. at 513-2613. Thanks, J.R."
Around 9:30 every Saturday morning at this address, Dalton and some volunteers hand out bags of groceries to anyone willing to fill out a brief sheet of paperwork that asks simply for a name and number of family members. Included in what he usually hands out: fresh produce, pasta, milk, sports drinks, peanut butter and cereal. When the last of the people come by, Dalton and his volunteers from a local church and his tire business pack up the back of a semi, pray and drive over to Dalton's secondhand clothing and toy store on Washington St. to hand out more food.
A tall man with thinning, graying hair and pale blue eyes, Dalton is easily approachable. During prayer, a pregnant young woman asks if he can provide her with some food. He tells her that it's time for prayer, but immediately after, he has volunteers fetch the woman some supplies.
Both Dalton's tire business, J.R.'s Used Tires and Batteries, and his secondhand clothing store, Dalton's Clothing Toy Ministries, provide funds in differing degrees to the feeding of homeless and needy people in Indianapolis. Dalton usually cooks his thrice weekly meals in the work uniform of his tire business, which consists of a light blue work shirt and dark blue work pants. An admitted "wolkaholic" who says that he's "constantly at work," Dalton seems always to be working in order to provide funding for his charity.
He starts cooking at 9 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He normally begins cleaning up the meal while the last of the day's guests are still chowing down on desserts. Today's dessert is a bowl of blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and bananas with a piece of white cake.
Dalton says, "We do not owe a penny to anyone," and that, "we do all our own work. We don't hire anything out," adding, "ninety-five percent of everything you see is through our business." But then he emphasizes that he wouldn't be able to do any of this work without the help of Jesus Christ or the power that his faith gives him.
About seven years ago, Dalton walked away from a building closing and wondered exactly what he was doing with his life and whether he was making the world a better place. "I hopped in my truck and said to myself 'There has to be more to life than this.'"
His faith in God grew stronger and he began to pray about what he should do differently. Dalton says God wanted him to use the money he made from his businesses to feed people. For about five years, this what he's been doing at Dalton's Place. The soup kitchen over on Ketcham is a new development. He bought that building a little over a year ago, starting the kitchen about six months ago. He also has plans to put in a barbershop, recreation room, nursery and praise and worship room.
Most people start off anything they say about Dalton with "J.R.'s a good man" or "J.R.'s a tremendous help to the community."
Daphne Hayes knows how helpful Dalton can be. Last April, her husband lost his job, leaving her family to wonder where the next meal would come from that week. Hayes called up Dalton, asking if there was anything he could do to help her family out. Dalton provided her family with two weeks worth of groceries.
"It was more than I was expecting. I would have been happy with peanut butter and jelly."
At Dalton's soup kitchen, guests savor tasty plates of chicken, potatoes and pasta. The food tastes like a great, home-cooked meal. Volunteers and Dalton himself weave in between the tables and chairs, asking guests if they would like a slice of chocolate cake before clean-up time.
Hayes marvels at the meals Dalton provides saying, "It's like eating at a restaurant."
One of the men at the tables, Harvie Cook, says that Dalton is a tremendous help to his own personal survival. "If it wasn't for J.R., I don't know what I would eat," Cook says.
Another man, who identifies himself only as "Skates," talks about how people become aware of Dalton's charitable work. "Word of mouth gets around, so people know where to go when they need a bite to eat."
Although gospel music blares from a stereo set up on a tiny table, that's about as close as Dalton comes to preaching and pushing the teachings of Jesus Christ and Christianity onto his kitchen's visitors. Dalton says that the music is part of his ministry.
In all of this and with everything Dalton appears to do in his life, he seeks to help out those who grew up in the not so pleasant neighborhood of his childhood and assist people during hard times.
"That's all we want to do: help people," Dalton says.