Making their daily trip to the St. Francis House for the homeless, Joe and Vivian Mulligan weren’t expecting a surprise visit by a hometown hero.
The homeless couple was eating 4 Rivers barbecue for lunch when University of Florida Hall of Fame Football player, and WWE superstar, Thaddeus Bullard walked through the door to help serve the food.
Upon entering, Bullard immediately sat down with Joe and Vivian to hear their story and share a moment with the couple, who have been married for 26 years.
“It was kind of cool, he’s laidback, especially for a wrestler to come from WWE,” Joe said. “He told us about taking people to dinner in California, they were homeless people and he took a bunch of them in the same restaurant and fed them dinner. That was pretty cool.”
Bullard, also known by his wrestling name, Titus O’Neil, is completing his challenge of 3,000 volunteer hours to the Gator Nation. The challenge is part of UF’s Gator Good campaign, which focuses on student impact beyond campus.
“People invested in me when I was younger when they had nothing to gain in return,” Bullard said. “I feel like every day is an opportunity for me to go out and do the same.”
He spoke to others in attendance, and interacted with around 100 people, one of which challenged him to an arm wrestling battle — Bullard eventually lost.
One reason Bullard chose to visit the St. Francis Home was the financial struggles it has faced in recent months.
William Deitenbeck, case manager at St. Francis Home, said the city and county have been funding them for years, but now they are cutting back. He added that the county and city have given all the money to Grace Marketplace, which he said is a worthy project, but St. Francis House is still here as a shelter and place to eat.
“We have a lot of wonderful individuals in Gainesville and Alachua County, who contribute personally,” Deitenbeck said. “Just since we’ve had publicity recently about our money situation, we’ve had a pretty good outpouring of small donations. It’s not going to turn the tide by itself, but it shows people are aware of us and they care.”
Deitenbeck was pleased to see Bullard interact with the homeless at his shelter, taking photos with WWE fans, and at one point Bullard even held a baby.
After Bullard finished serving the homeless, he invited them to 4 Rivers restaurant so he could treat them to another meal.
“I still haven’t caught on to the celebrity of what I do for a living because I just continue to remain humble,” Bullard said. “I always try to let people know right out the gate that I’m a normal person, and I just have an extraordinary opportunity to go out on a weekly basis and do things on a worldwide scale.”