The family of the Belleville food pantry director who lost his sight in one eye after an attack said they’re coping by keeping the injury in perspective, by finding humor wherever they can and by focusing on small gestures like meals prepared for them by friends.
The damaged parts of Michael Foppe’s left eye have been removed since a man struck him with an unknown object Thursday at the Community Interfaith Food Pantry, where Foppe has volunteered for three years.
Though his vision will never come back, Foppe might still be able to perceive shadow and light someday. Or he might need to replace the eye with a prosthetic.
But in the days after the attack, the Foppes read about another family that lost nine relatives in a boating accident in Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. Foppe’s son, Jeremy Foppe, said he felt grateful to spend time with his dad on Friday night.
Michael Foppe notes that the man who attacked him could have had a gun or that it could have been an elderly volunteer at the pantry who was attacked instead of him.
“If it had to happen to somebody, I’d rather it happen to me than one of my volunteers because they’re more ‘mature’ than I am,” he said with a laugh.
A running joke in the family now is that a police officer told Michael Foppe that his age, 62, means he is officially elderly, too.
That detail mattered to law enforcement because it affected the potential severity of charges they could bring against the suspect. It also gives the family a reason to laugh.
After dinner on Saturday, Jeremy Foppe joked that the family will take “one-eyed Jack” over the other possibilities.
Sherri Foppe added of her husband, “I’ll take him as he is any day.”
Cortez L. Wilson, 41, was charged Friday in connection with the attack. He faces four counts of felony aggravated battery. Michael Foppe and another volunteer, who had minor injuries, were both struck in the face, according to the Belleville Police Department.
Wilson told police he is homeless.
The food pantry serves families from Belleville, Swansea and parts of Shiloh from its location at 1218 W. Main St. in Belleville. It also offers limited help to people from those communities who are homeless, according to its website, feedbelleville.org.
Michael Foppe said he turned the man who attacked him away from the food pantry on Wednesday because he didn’t meet the requirements to receive food, which include providing identification, for example.
He said the man appeared to be under the influence of something when he came back the next day and that he had been escorting the man off the property when he was hit.
“It happened so fast that I just didn’t have time to react,” Michael Foppe said. “I thought the gentleman was leaving the parking lot after we got to the end of the parking lot, and I turned, and that was the wrong thing to do. Whatever he had in his hand, he let me have it full-blast.”
He said he told police that it felt as if the man had something like a billiard ball in his hand.
Michael Foppe’s left eye was swollen shut Saturday. His left cheek bone and eye socket and his nasal passage are all shattered.
But Jeremy Foppe said they’re concentrating on the positive.
“Bad things happen like this all the time, and it’s easy for everyone to focus on that negative,” Jeremy Foppe said. “But for us right now, our positive is that we got to have dinner with dad last night. We didn’t know that was going to happen for a short time.”
His mom called while he was at work Thursday to tell him what happened, Jeremy Foppe said.
“Of course, your mind goes to the worst, you know?” he said. “My dad is probably one of my best friends, if not my best friend. And to hear that is just tough.”
Jeremy Foppe said the family has also been comforted by the calls and messages they’ve gotten since Thursday, as well as flowers, baked goods and several days worth of dinners. He said his parents “devoted their lives to taking care of everybody else.”
“It’s awesome to see some folks that are reaching out to take care of them,” he added.
Michael Foppe said he’s thankful for the support and that he plans to come back to the pantry as soon as he’s able.
Jeremy Foppe said what happened has made the family worried about the safety of volunteers in the future. According to Michael Foppe, the pantry already has an alarm system to alert police to emergencies, which he said he used on Thursday, and that it will be installing a security camera system, too.