On his way to work at a Hollywood entertainment company, Steve LePore would casually step over at least one person sleeping on the pavement.
“There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t walk over someone or see someone crawling out of a dumpster,” said LePore, 32, who lives near Universal City. “I got sick of my indifference.”
Ray Castellani, 55, of North Hollywood never had been indifferent to the downtrodden. Indeed, he had been downtrodden himself.
Since moving to California nearly three decades ago with dreams of becoming an actor, he has known tough times. After struggling to find bit parts, Castellani gave in to alcoholism 19 years ago and found himself without a home.
He lived on the streets and in an abandoned duplex for about a year but kicked the drinking habit. Though sober these days, Castellani still has no permanent home. He lives out of his truck or house-sits for friends. He said he receives a disability check from the Screen Actors Guild and earns an occasional residual check from television acting roles.
The two men could not be more dissimilar, except in one respect.
They both have reached deep into their own pockets to pay for food and clothing for thousands of homeless people in Los Angeles.
LePore, director of administration for a company that builds amusement parks and produces films and plays, began his crusade to help the homeless in January.
“I got tired of handing out quarters, so I put the quarters into this,” LePore said of his efforts.
It took more than loose change in January, when LePore and his friend, Craig Scholz, first packed up a van and hit the streets with 100 brown bags--each containing a turkey sandwich, an orange, juice and chocolate pudding--and distributed them to street people.
Every Friday night since then, LePore has driven around Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, usually with Scholz, handing out bags of food to people sleeping on bus-stop benches, along grassy roadway medians and in parking lots.
LePore, who puts the cost of the food at about $125 a week, said he can’t think of a better way to spend his money.
Being “callous and cold cost me so much more,” he said.
He said he is single, earns an annual salary of about $55,000, and lives in considerable comfort.
“Although I’m not wealthy, I’ve got more than enough money,” LePore said. “I don’t place a lot of importance on money.” The smiles on the faces of those who accept his bag lunches mean much more, he said.
Near the Phones
Joan, an elderly woman who sleeps on Santa Monica Boulevard alongside a bank of phones, was the first to receive a bag lunch on one of LePore’s recent treks. Nearly blind, Joan sits on a milk crate, with a phone receiver cradled next to her ear, but there is no one on the other end of the line.
When asked what she thought of LePore’s crusade, she responded quickly: “It’s absolutely beautiful.”
LePore, who has a hearty laugh, loves to talk about the people he meets on the streets.
One of his proudest moments was when a man named John, who had been living out of a trash bin, came to LePore’s office and announced that he had found a job as a museum security guard.
Although he no longer lives on the streets, John visits LePore during many of his Friday jaunts. “I came by to see my friend,” John said on a recent Friday.
Another regular stop for LePore is an alley outside a Hollywood club for teen-agers. That Friday, he met Donna--a teen-age runaway holding her 8-week-old baby. LePore handed Donna a bag lunch and a pair of sneakers she had asked for earlier.
“Hey, I got me some Reeboks!” she yelled to no one in particular. “OK, have a nice week,” she said to LePore.
He gets many requests for shoes, as well as for clothing and blankets, which he often gathers from among his friends. But there are always surprises.
When LePore stopped at the makeshift cardboard shelters near Los Angeles City Hall, a barefoot woman with a hacking cough and fever asked LePore for a pair of socks.
As she stood before him, wheezing and looking down at her feet, LePore peeled off his own socks and gave them to her.
“I’ve got plenty of socks, believe me,” he said.
Ray Castellani hands out food, blankets, jackets, shoes and cigarettes to denizens of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.
On his first outing last November, he gave away 111 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Since then, Castellani said he has given away more than 28,000 sandwiches. He makes the sandwiches in the kitchen of the United Methodist Church of Sherman Oaks, though he is not a member of the congregation.
Castellani said he pays for much of the food and also receives donations from church members and friends.
Once homeless himself, Castellani returns to the world of the down and out every Saturday morning, Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday night.
Recently, Castellani pulled his truck up to a cluster of men sitting on a sidewalk amid warehouses and boarded-up buildings, near 5th and Crocker streets downtown.
As he handed out sacks filled with sandwiches, cake and juice, he greeted the men by name, patting some on the back, hugging others. Most thanked him gratefully; a few said, “God bless you.”
Tex, 37, who lives on the streets of Skid Row--the 44 square blocks bordered by 3rd and 7th streets, Broadway and Central Avenue--said: “Most of the people who come down here make you pray or listen to a sermon, but Ray just gives for the pure hell of giving, and doesn’t ask for anything in return.”
“He’s got a lot of heart, a lot of guts and a lot of patience,” said Willie, 38.
Castellani frequents some of Los Angeles’ meanest streets, where acceptance is hard to come by.
“I didn’t know if they’d accept me,” Castellani said. “These people that love me now could in one split second slit my throat. But I think they realize I believe so much in what I’m doing.”
Indeed, on a recent night while Castellani was giving away food and blankets, a fight broke out and two men scuffled in the darkened, deserted street, rolling over broken glass near Castellani’s truck.
“Now that everybody knows this is Ray, he can walk these streets,” Tex said. “The average person cannot park his truck here. This is the biggest open penitentiary in the world.”
One man offered to clean the windows of Castellani’s truck in exchange for a sandwich. Castellani told him his windows were clean and gave him a bag of food.