Metro-East News

Doctors forced to remove Belleville food pantry director’s left eyeball after attack; suspect charged

Mike Foppe, shown here in this undated family photo, is the director of the Community Interfaith Food Pantry in Belleville.
Mike Foppe, shown here in this undated family photo, is the director of the Community Interfaith Food Pantry in Belleville. Provided

The director of an all-volunteer pantry in Belleville who was attacked Thursday by a patron was expected to be released from the hospital Friday after suffering several facial bone fractures and undergoing surgery to completely remove his left eye.

Mike Foppe was injured after a suspect, possibly angry at being turned away, struck him in the face Thursday morning. A second volunteer also was assaulted and he suffered minor injuries.

Cortez L. Wilson, 41, who is homeless, was charged on Friday with four counts of felony aggravated battery in connection with the attack on the two Community Interfaith Food Pantry volunteers, police said.

Tami Johnson, Foppe’s sister-in-law and a registered nurse, said Foppe will be released from the hospital Friday and will need to recover for at least six weeks. During that time, she said, he will not be able to lift anything or expose himself to elements like dust and grass in order to avoid infection.

“What was left of his eye was removed during surgery last night,” Johnson said. “The strike was significant enough it destroyed the eyeball entirely and they had to take all of it out.”

While his left eye was removed, Johnson said Foppe’s right eye was unaffected and is still functioning properly.

Foppe will have to learn how to adjust to being with one eye, Johnson said.

“The brain is really great; it learns how to adjust. It just takes awhile,” she said. “He will likely be able to drive again.”

The only other injuries he suffered were facial fractures that are expected to heal on their own.

“We are grateful and so is he,” Johnson said. “The very first thing he said was, ‘It could have been worse — he could have shot me, he could have stabbed me.’ We are grateful this man was impaired and he wasn’t in his right mind, if he was capable of this degree of damage he could have killed him.”

Johnson said the entire family is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and their friends.

”He’s doing well — emotionally he is doing remarkably well,” Johnson said of Foppe. “He is a man of faith and is just putting it in the Lord’s hands.”

Foppe is a volunteer at the Community Interfaith Food Pantry at 1218 W. Main St. and was there on Thursday to restock the pantry.

“We all are praying he has a speedy recovery,” said Dan McKenzie on Friday. McKenzie is a volunteer who was at the pantry but did not see the altercation.

Wilson was arrested shortly after the attack. He was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail on Friday at the Belleville Police Department, police said.

Belleville police Lt. Col. Matt Eiskant said the suspect struck two volunteers at the food pantry after being turned down for services. Both volunteers were struck in the face with an unknown object, Eiskant said.

Police, volunteers and family said the suspect had also been turned away from the pantry on Wednesday. Foppe’s family said the man did not have documentation to prove he lived in areas served by the pantry, among other requirements.

The food pantry serves about 500 to 600 families, McKenzie said, with seasonal fluctuation. He said a handful of volunteers were working Thursday.

Dana Rieck: 618-239-2642, @ByDanaRieck

BND reporters Mike Koziatek and Mary Cooley contributed to this report.