This post has nothing whatsoever to do with being Trans* – it’s a story from back when I was a young pup of 30.
My daughter, Sarah, has been urging me to share this story for years. So for her, here is the story of “Ray.” I don’t know his last name and I’m not sure he’d even want the credit. But this simple man taught me more about giving from the heart than any person alive.
Since this is the time of year when we give thanks and hopefully show compassion for those less fortunate, I want to share this now with all of you.
In 1988 I was working as the program director and morning host at Classic Rock – KZTR in Ventura. I was also moonlighting at KLOS in Los Angeles as a part time flunkie. I loved it.
I was working with a guy I love like a brother; his name is Frank. We had been hearing a lot on the news about homeless people living on the streets of Los Angeles in the area of skid row. We decided to take a look for ourselves.
It was a cool Saturday morning when we walked down Main near 5th street not knowing what to expect. I saw men sleeping on the sidewalk with newspaper blankets. Dirty, stained and un-shaven, these men were the epitome of human misery to my sheltered eyes.
We walked past the Union Rescue Mission on San Pedro. Several men were milling about outside. We walked up the street and saw a long line of street people (I think it was on 5th street). There were hundreds of them. The line was peaceful and racially diverse.
Frank and I followed the line up the street to where we saw a small card table, a white pick-up truck and a 60-ish man with grey hair handing out sandwiches, coffee or orange juice. He had no time to speak with us so we waited and just watched. As the person in front received their sandwich, the man handing out the sandwiches would recognize many of them and call them by name. Some would take their meal and eat it hungrily in a park nearby, or others would move to the back of the line in hopes of getting a second sandwich. As long as they were orderly, it didn’t seem to matter to the man with the truck.
When the sandwiches ran out the crowd quietly dispersed, a few men staying around to make small talk. Finally having a moment to talk to the sandwich man, we learned his name was Ray. After learning that Ray wasn’t affiliated with any organization, Frank asked Ray to come on his show and tell his story. Ray agreed.
A few weeks later Ray joined us as the KLOS studios on LaCienega at midnight to share his story. Over the next hour I was to learn a life-long lesson about human dignity, about giving and about unconditional love.
Ray began by telling us that he had been working successfully in corporate America but had grown tired of the rat race. It was time to retire and live the good life, so he got in his truck and left Los Angeles heading North. Near San Francisco a voice told him to turn around and go back to L.A. because he was supposed to feed people. He ignored the voice and kept driving.
Into the night he drove and the voice didn’t give up, it just became more persistent. “Turn around, you need to go feed people.” Near the Oregon border, Ray turned around. He drove back to L.A. wondering how he was going to answer this voice.
Ray went to the store and bought some bread and some peanut butter and he made sandwiches, maybe 100 of them. He made a big urn of coffee and brought cups and headed for his soon to be familiar spot in Skid Row.
What makes Ray special is that he pays attention and genuinely cares about these people. He made an important point, he’s NOT trying to solve all of their problems…just attending to their immediate need. If you are hungry, here is a sandwich. Ray asks nothing of them, he doesn’t sell religion to them, doesn’t care if they get back in line – as long as they are peaceful and respect one another, it’s all good.
As a further example, Ray is careful to give people what they need. Ray serves 2 kinds of sandwiches, peanut butter or tuna. There is a reason, he explained. Both are high protein, which are filling and stay with you longer. Also, they are soft and easy to chew, because many people living on the street have some real dental issues. Giving a roast beef sandwich to an alcoholic with terrible teeth means he will likely trade a sandwich he can’t eat for something to drink.
Along the way, Ray noticed that many of the homeless needed clothing items. Socks and underwear seemed to be the most common. Can you imagine? Wearing the same socks, same underwear and no way to wash them? Ray could. But again, Ray looked at it differently, instead of just collecting and distributing stuff randomly as is often the case, he approached clothing much like food.
If you needed shoes, Ray would ask you what size you wore, same with jeans or anything else. Then if he didn’t already know, he would ask your name. Then the next week, when you got your sandwich, you also received a bundle, tied with a string and with your NAME on it. Do you know how big a deal that is to a homeless person? Their size? Their name? With Ray, preserving human dignity was an essential part of giving. They felt more like customers than beggars.
How cool is that?
This man, Ray, with his gray hair and piercing blue eyes and weathered face was the closest thing I have met on Earth to the living embodiment of Jesus Christ.
No form of giving is bad…help is desperately needed in so many areas. But so often, people give what they want to give…Ray gives what people need while caring about the person. He doesn’t get caught up in the personal drama he just feeds them.
The line of people grew after those first few days…Ray would be there twice a week, every week. Tuesday and Saturday as I recall. Eventually the lines grew to where Ray was serving between 700 and 800 people, twice a week. Think about that!
Asked where he gets the money for all of this, Ray replied that he honestly didn’t know…his money long since ran out. He gets donations but he is not affiliated with any group. There is a church nearby that will let him and a couple of volunteers use their kitchen to make sandwiches, but he says many times money shows up just in time.
Two other interesting points about this incredible man –
- He had a volunteer helping him make sandwiches but asked him not to come back. His sandwiches were not made with love. The people could tell and Ray wouldn’t stand for it. Giving needs to be from the heart. I’ve always remembered that.
- I expressed amazement at what he does. He turned his steely eyes to me and said: “You can feed 50 people, tomorrow.” Anyone can. You just get the bread, and you do it.”
Listening to this unsung hero of the streets, this living angel, has guided my charity work over the following years and some incredible things have happened. Ray was right. Anyone can do it. I’ve followed his principles of caring about the individual and making giving personal. Magic has happened again and again. All because of Ray…let that be his legacy.
My daughter, Sarah periodically makes a bunch of sandwiches and hands them out in inner-city Atlanta. How wonderful! Both of my daughters have the spirit of giving in their hearts!
All you have to do is Do It.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Love you all. I am so very blessed!