LA PROFILES--Homelessness is presently a political, hot topic as it continues to sprout in almost all parts of the City of Los Angeles. The story of Toastmaster Michael Perez’ volunteering for the homeless caught my attention at the Toastmasters Division Contest for Table Topics ---held bi-annually in downtown Los Angeles.
The Contest Topic was open-ended enough for contestant Perez to respond from direct life experience. He won the Division Contest, rising to the district level competition. However, he didn’t make good at the district contest, though he did walk away with a bundle of impromptu speaking skills and a cherished experience.
Later, I contacted Perez for an interview on his altruistic story that caught my attention at the Toastmasters Division Contest. Perez explained that when he was attending Cal State University Northridge, his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma in partnership with another fraternity held an annual event to feed the homeless on skid row. About fifty volunteers made 1,000 peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches in Northridge to distribute to the homeless at 3:00 a. m. on Thanksgiving Day. Their target was the homeless without shelters who are situated in one place at that time in the morning.
“Phi Beta Sigma is a multicultural fraternity with an inclusive motto, ‘united we stand, united we fall,’“ Perez articulated. “We wanted to show our brothers and sisters living in skid row that someone cared for them. What a better time than on Thanksgiving Day when we’re all enjoying freshly home-cooked meals.”
Perez admitted that a bit of fear lingered in the air when they took to the streets not knowing how they [homeless] were going to respond especially at three in the morning.
“It was lit well enough for us to navigate from street to street. We zigzagged in and out of major streets --started walking up Sixth Street, then north on Central Avenue, etc.--covering 30 square blocks and ending back at Pershing Square, where we started,” Perez said in one breath.
The crew handed sandwiches to everyone they saw in the street, and in a matter of two hours the sandwiches were gone. “People were sleeping, lying down on cardboards, inside tents, while some sat on the bare concrete sidewalks,” he said.
Perez (photo left) explained that there are some homeless who don’t even bother to go to a shelter or church where distributions of food are offered because of their circumstances, “We targeted those who don’t have access, for whatever reason, and give them a break from their harsh reality by bringing some hope into their lives.”
When Perez saw someone sitting by a tent, he’d ask how many inside and left sandwiches for them. In some cases, when there were lone tents, “we left a couple of sandwiches in a bag with a note, letting them know why the sandwiches were there.”
Perez expressed that in the past, he heard about a few cases where homeless men tried to grab female volunteers. For the three consecutive years that he volunteered, he saw no obstacles. Women were paired with men for precaution, and the crew was welcomed with open arms.
“Starting off on Thanksgiving Day with men and women getting together to distribute food before twilight is very powerful. This feeling of community unity brings meaning to community service,” Perez said.
“This experience made my Thanksgiving even better.
Perez is a Mechanical Design Engineer, a graduate from Northridge-U and works in the aerospace field as a mechanical designer.
(Connie Acosta writes about Los Angeles neighborhood councils and is a neighborhood council participant.)