An SOS is hard to ignore. Especially if it involves kids. Especially if it comes from your alma mater.

Bruce and Stephanie Sullivan couldn’t hit delete when the football coach at Iroquois High School posted a GoFundMe request for pregame meals and practice uniforms.

“I’ll help,” Bruce told him. “But I’ll bring Jesus with me.”

“Come on in,” the coach responded.

At the first cookout in 2019, players were distant, even wary of the Sullivans.

The Sullivans understood. Trust is an issue. No one wanted to be a project or a one-time, do-good outreach to make givers feel better. They are courageous kids facing difficult challenges.

Race also created a barrier because most of the football players are black. The Sullivans are white. They grew up in the community and still live nearby.

“The coach explained that the only time a lot of these kids see white people are social workers, police officers or those in the court system,” said Bruce, who is a member of Southeast Christian Church’s Southwest Campus. “Those aren’t always great experiences. We wanted to change that.”

It didn’t take long.

The Sullivans asked area restaurants to donate pregame meals. Since Iroquois High School is near Southeast’s South Louisville Campus, they asked South Louisville Campus Pastor Justin Weece and Student Pastor Cole Ragland to help provide drawstring backpacks with two shirts and two pairs of shorts for each player.

They asked University of Louisville Chaplain Chris Morgan, FCA Regional Director Steve Wigginton, Jeff Holbrook and others to speak to players. The Sullivans’ adult son, Nason, also helped out.

“We loved on them, prayed for them and took some of the players to church with us,” Stephanie said.

When the Sullivans realized food is an ongoing challenge, they partnered with Zeon Chemical to provide a stocked pantry at school where students can get snacks and convenience foods.

Bruce showed up for practices and games.

“These kids are dealing with violence, threats, drugs and failing grades. They’re working as well as going to school and often caring for siblings,” Bruce said. “Many live with an aunt or grandparent. They need steady encouragers in their lives.”

Soon athletes were calling Bruce about big life questions as he became a constant in otherwise chaotic worlds. By the end of the year, some students were going to church with the Sullivans.

Southwest Community Pastor Aaron Troutman watched friendships unfold.

“It’s been incredible to see the Sullivans walk alongside the Iroquois football team,” he said. “From feeding them meals before games to sponsoring spirit packs and even starting a team food pantry. They have been the hands and feet of Jesus to this team.”

Last year, the Southwest Campus sponsored the first team banquet in a long time. The Iroquois football season ended abruptly Oct. 19 due to a combination of factors, including COVID.

However, the end of the season does not mean the end of friendships. The Sullivans will be back.