From Temple and Grand to where the underserved live
-- The Tidings /
Photos by Bill Stephens
early Thursday in downtown L.A., 20 of Gus
Catipon's Cathedral Outreach volunteers are making sandwiches for a
unique homeless feeding program. Some stand at a long table spreading cheese,
meat, and mustard onto bread. Others stuff brown bags with sandwiches, fruit,
water, and sweets.
program takes lunches right to the tents of homeless living east of downtown's
Skid Row under L.A. River bridges and in nearby streets.
we had a few volunteers making 100 sandwiches weekly for local parish
shelters," says Catipon, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels outreach
director. "I knew about the growing population under L.A.
River bridges and about Skid Row's many mission and week-end soup kitchens. So
I suggested targeting the underserved under the bridges on Thursdays. Now we
have 40 volunteers making 1200 total sandwiches weekly on Tuesday and
complex downtown homeless problem is compounded by the area's
renaissance. "Some complain our feeding attracts homeless. But these
people need help. We can mobilize quickly and have dedicated volunteers. We're
called by God to help. The Cathedral is committed to helping downtown
underserved, and this is just one of our outreach efforts. Of course, donations and volunteers are welcome."
Volunteers Bob Lavallee, Caroline Rubio, Jim Denny, and I head southeast from
the Cathedral in a van, skirting Skid Row.
Explains aerospace retiree Lavallee: “We serve
people on the edges of Skid Row. Many feel Skid Row's too dangerous."
We stop at three empty tents. “Our homeless
clients move around, so our task is to find them," says Lavallee.
Near a littered lot, we spot Larry, a regular.
“We have lunch, Larry,” retiree Denny says,
emerging from the van.
Larry, a man with a craggy face, dusty clothes,
and gentle manner, accepts two sack lunches, chocolates and hygiene kit.
“This helps keep me healthy,” he says. “When you have your health, you have
Larry says he's been here 10-15 years and doesn’t
know what he'd do if he had to rejoin society.
Under soaring Sixth Street bridge Caroline Rubio
chats with somewhat disoriented Donald, just arrived from Oklahoma.
She hands him lunch. “Stop by our Outreach office
at Temple and Hill and talk to our case worker."
Rubio, who grew up in downtown L.A. and
volunteers daily at the Cathedral, says "helping these people touches you,
is gratifying, and makes you appreciative."
Across the street Rubio and Denny approach a
camper shell. Joe, who wears a pony tail and earns money helping local
warehouses, gratefully accepts lunch.
"These guys make a difference and never give
me a hard time,” says Joe, whose situation has been improving. “I enjoy their
Back in the van Lavallee notes that the team never
evangelizes. "That isn’t the goal."
Underneath a river bridge, men emerge from small
tents to claim their lunches. A tall man wearing shades and a bandana, goes by
“How’s it going Seven?” Lavallee says
“Fine, just on my way to work.”
Homeless nine years, he works part-time.
“God directs these people to help us,” Seven says, hugging the
On a sunny street, we spot another Larry. He’s
wearing shorts, no shirt, and a bushy beard, Two shopping carts guard his
“How are things Larry?” Denny asks, handing him
“Okay," says Larry, 59, but looking older.
“Excuse my informal attire."
A Vietnam vet who's been here years, Larry loves
novels, which the feeding team occasionally bring. The lunches help him get by,
We stop near two tents on a gritty dead-end.
"Anybody home? We have lunches."
Ron emerges, wearing a scruffy beard. Happy for
the lunches, he shouts: "I LOVE chocolate!"
He's been here years. "I got attuned. See it
as an extended camping trip.”
Inside Ron's tent a tired woman waves.
A familiar person approaches the van.
Melanie!” Rubio says. “We thought we missed you.”
Melanie breaks into a dance as she receives
sandwiches and hygiene kit. “These guys help me so much," she says,
smiling. "They're the greatest.”
Driving north, we meet a young man in a chair
reading a newspaper.
“Hi Pruiit,” Denny says politely. “Want lunch?”
He nods. Pruitt accepts the sack lunches and
chocolates. After chatting, he says: “These people are my best friends.”
Later we spot an older man sitting by his tent.
“Hi Elijah,” Caroline says, getting out of the
van. “We have lunch.”
Grey bearded Elijah accepts two lunches. A Chicago
musician, he came here years ago, landing in the street. “These people help a
lot,” he says.
As we approach tougher areas, Lavallee says they
don't know the people here as well, so stay alert.
Nearby, Denny says, a building owner
recently asked them not to feed because people sell drugs around there.
"Not all of them,” Denny replied. "We’re here to feed people, not
Denny says this work has changed his
life, made him more appreciative. "It's a complex problem, but our piece
helps. Jesus said feed the poor."
A man complains his tent was stolen. The team
gives him a rolled-up tent.
"Thanks so much! Great."
In another tough industrial area, we pull up to a
group sitting against a wall. A man and a woman are screaming at each
other. Accepting sandwiches, a woman in a halter top says: “Don't pull up
like that. Somebody will think you're undercover agents."
On a nearby street, we come upon defeated-looking
people sitting amid trash. Several collect our lunches and grunt
appreciation. A menacing man leans close. “You have no idea what
this means to have you come by," he says.
A tear trickles down his face. He looks
embarrassed. “Men aren’t supposed to cry.”
“It’s okay,” Lavallee says, patting him on the
arm. “We’ll be back to see you next week."
The van heads off for the Cathedral.
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