Unfortunately, when it comes to feeding cats outside, there's no way to feed just one cat. Unless it will eat in your presence. If he's sitting on your front steps, put food out for him when you know he's there. If he eats in your presence, stay there while he eats. I'm assuming you'll need some distance at first. When he's done eating, pick up the bowl.
Simply continue doing this until you can get close to him while he's eating - meaning put the bowl down, move away - but make the distance shorter and shorter. He'll let you know what's OK by either eating or not.
If he's truly feral, you may never be able to pet or touch him/her without kitty completely freaking out. If kitty was owned by people at some time, you may be able to build a measure of trust. That's when things get tricky.
Please read this story: http://www.savesamoa.org/html/booger.html
It took close to two months before she would eat with us right next to her. Things progressed fairly rapidly after that, but "befriending" a feral or stray that has become feral-like cat is something that happens on the cat's time scale, not a human's.
There is an alternative. If you want the cat to become an indoor pet, that is an option. It is the route that takes far more commitment on your part. Many cat organizations say that a feral that is older than a few months cannot be socialized. Some say ferals older than a year cannot be socialized. That is simply not the case. It's just that most humans want more immediate results - and to socialize an older feral is a process that can take a year or more. It totally depends upon the animal's background and prior experiences with humans.
This link is to a thread where someone has taken in a feral that is 6 - 8 months old: http://www.thecatsite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11395
I guess what I'm saying is if you're into the idea of adopting this cat, and into it to the extent that you're willing to trap the cat and bring it into your home, it is possible to go this route. He'd need to be in a separate room, probably for some time. A guest bedroom or a computer work room are perfect. But it has to be some place that you're willing to spend time doing stuff. Ironing, reading, working on a computer, knitting, sitting and watching TV - whatever. But your presence is required for kitty to get used to you. And again, the other ingredient is time. The socialization process begins by simply ignoring kitty, but providing him/her hiding places, a clean litterbox, food, and water. If you want to bring kitty in, I'm happy to provide a lot more details about how to help socialize the kitty - and, of course - you've got the resources of everyone that participates in this forum, and there are quite a few people with experience at socializing ferals. Just like with Lucky, we'd be here every step of the way if you like.
The bottom line is that building a relationship with a cat like this is all about getting that cat to trust you. Food is a great beginning to building that trust. The only other ingredient is time.
Here's a great article summarizing the socializing process: http://straypetadvocacy.org/html/soc...feral_cat.html
Also, no matter what, if you truly care for this cat, he/she really needs to be sterilized. If you're going to continue to "work" with him as an outdoor "pet," you should locate a humane trap. Many vets have them to lend. You can also locate organizations/shelters in your area to see if they've a trap you can rent or borrow: http://www.pets911.com/index.php
(type in your zip code and then click on the "Find a local shelter or rescue" in the left column).
....and as you're not "cat people," I'm not going to encourage you to put food out for all the cats in order to trap them and get them sterilized and then release them. But as you do find them a nuisance, PLEASE contact organizations and shelters in your area to find someone who will do just that! This way you won't have double the population to deal with come Spring.
Of course, if you can't find a person or organization to help, please consider trapping them and getting them sterilized (I guess I am going to encourage you, lol!). Having them around will help prevent more cats from moving in to the area, but having them sterilized will prevent more homeless cats, it will reduce territory-marking, it will reduce fighting and injuries.
One last thought. As dog people, you're used to animals that immediately love you, that seem to show their appreciation in very immediate and apparent ways, and that are motivated to make you happy. Cats are quite different. You have to earn their love and trust, because they are independent and proud. They do show they love you, and they do share their appreciation - but it's something that happens over time, not right away. They are social animals, but they are not pack animals. Unlike with dogs, they do not come preprogrammed to look to the alpha for leadership, and they do not come preprogrammed to make you happy. But once you've earned that trust - it's a very different kind of bond than you get with a dog. And when you've worked so hard to earn it, it's really rather remarkable and incredible and something that feels quite wonderful. In fact, I'd have to say that it's a bond between human and animal like no other.
Cats are not genetically programmed to make people happy. They are genetically programmed to keep watch over their territory. So changing a cat's territory is traumatic to kitty. Their initial reaction is fear. And their territory will be the box in which they're hiding. As they feel safe, they will slowly expand that territory. But under-the-bed may be kitty's territory for some time. They'll venture out for food, water and to go to the bathroom. But until they've learned that the human in the same space with them is not any kind of threat, they may keep to a very small territory. The more they trust, the more they'll expand that space. Our feral rescues (rescued as kittens) did not like to be petted - which we never understood. It made them purr - but it was like they didn't want to enjoy themselves. Now that they're four, they can't get enough of a brush, and having their cheeks petted almost all day would be heaven. But it was something that literally took years - even though they'd sleep in our bed, rub up against us, and generally enjoy being with us from very early on.
OH! If you get to the point that you're touching kitty, a couple of things.
1) With cats, IF you're going to reach a hand out, do it palm down - the opposite of dogs.
2) DO NOT LOOK KITTY IN THE EYE. This is not "being alpha" of the pack like with dogs. This is a direct threat of aggression and you mean to attack. Look at them in the forehead. In fact, "looking" at them with your eyes closed is a trust-builder "trick."
3) If you get to the point where you're petting kitty, do NOT pet kitty's tummy. Some cats do like to have their tummies rubbed. Some cats come to enjoy it. But at first - avoid it. Cats get overstimulated very easily. And they often "drop" to their sides - and it looks like an invitation to rub a tummy. Especially to dog people. This is rarely what they want. Our kitties flop over, and still want to be petted on their cheeks - sometimes under the chin. Cats have scent glands in their cheeks - it starts at the back of the gum - and this scent gland puts out "friendly" markers. For some reason they love having this stimulated. But when you see the end of their tail begin to flick, stop. Otherwise kitty may give you a quick bite. Some cats are good about this - giving signals that they've had enough, or that they're starting to get overstimulated - other cats aren't. And they way they then communicate they've had enough is to a) give you a quick bite (more like put their teeth on you - but a feral that's "new" to it may give a real bite) or b) put their paw on your hand. Again - it's the opposite of dogs. The paw on your hand almost always means "stop," not "more."
If you're interested, lots more where that came from.
I'm so glad this cat has wormed his way into your hearts! Two of our rescues are black and white kitties, and I just find them fascinating. I hope you find a way to bring him into your home as well as your hearts. And I really hope that no matter what happens you get him/her sterilized so he/she won't keep contributing to the millions of homeless kitties. It is because some irresponsible pet owner didn't get a cat sterilized that you even have the problem of nuisance cats to begin with. Cats did not create the problem - people did - and only people can help solve the problem.