Mr. T and the Easter Bunny come together for a skid row brunch

The Easter Bunny prays with Anntony, a homeless woman, at the Midnight Mission’s annual Easter brunch on skid row.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

As volunteers around him passed out plates of ham and vegetables on skid row, Mr. T bent down to wrap 5-year-old Madison Cline in a hug while her mom snapped a photo.

Madison doesn’t know who Mr. T is, but her mother, Stephanie Cline, grew up watching the actor on “The A-Team,” Stephanie said. He was among dozens of volunteers, including gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, who spent some of their Easter morning on skid row for the Midnight Mission’s annual Easter brunch.

Midnight Mission, which offers housing and services for homeless people, often holds such events for the community, both inside and outside the mission. A block of 6th Street was closed to traffic from San Julian to San Pedro streets, while adults and children served pastries, or plates heaped with chicken, ham, yams and vegetables.


A few hundred people ate at the long tables set up on the street and covered with bright tablecloths, while a giant Easter Bunny walked around with a basket of chocolate. Some ducked under the yellow caution tape cordoning off the street and ate their meals on the sidewalk, sitting next to half-opened suitcases, trash bags, tarps and people still sleeping.

On stage at 10 a.m., representatives from the mission let attendees know that there were beds available at the mission, and both Villaraigosa and Mr. T addressed the crowd. Then a band took over, and Villaraigosa, former L.A. mayor, hustled to dole out yams while Mr. T began the selfie circuit with fans.

Both said they have come to the mission often over the years. Villaraigosa lamented the rise in homelessness since the Great Recession and called for more programs and reform at the state level.

Oswald Barbosa, 50, said the brunch offers a break from the street, where some people are friendly and some aren’t and he always has to be aware of what’s happening around him. At the brunch, he could listen to music and laugh as a child volunteer joked around with another guest, teasing him to finish his food before taking dessert.

“It makes you feel whole again,” said Barbosa, who is looking for permanent housing and a job. The brunch made him feel like he was “in a different state of mind, [it] takes you to somewhere else, away from the hustle and bustle,” he said.

Events like this, in addition to one-on-one daily interactions, help “build trust and break down barriers” with people so that they will ask for help when they’re ready, said Midnight Mission program manager Don Halfenberg. Throughout the morning, people approached him and other staff members, asking for help or housing.


Stephanie Cline arrived in L.A. from Utah last month with her two daughters, seeking an escape from family troubles back home. She’s looking for permanent housing, but found shelter for now at Union Rescue Mission about a block away.

“Skid row was the last place I expected to go,” said Cline, 33, holding a purple stuffed llama that her daughters had obtained from the kids booth, along with Easter baskets filled with candy and toys. The Midnight Mission brunch gave her kids and her a way to celebrate Easter this year — something she wasn’t sure they would be able to do.

Mr. T, right, prays with Jimmy Campbell, 67, during an Easter brunch for hundreds of people who are homeless or nearly homeless on skid row.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )
Anthony Curry, 49, in green at right, joins Sunday's Easter brunch on skid row, provided by the nonprofit Midnight Mission.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

Reach Sonali Kohli at or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.