Ray Castellani was once a character actor in Hollywood. He did pretty good too, until he heard a calling from God: Go feed the homeless. He left Hollywood and that’s what he did. In May, he served his millionth sandwich to the homeless of Skid Row, a place that reminds of me of photographs of the poorest countries on earth. I interviewed him two days before he headed to Skid Row with that millionth sandwich, then I visited him on the day he served it. The photographs are by David Crane. From my stories (Daily News, May, 2012):
|The first time Ray Castellani drove down to Skid Row to feed the hungry, he handed out 111 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cups of coffee from the back of his pickup truck.He went back a second time with more sandwiches. And a third time, with even more food.He returned again and again, toward the hopeless, the unloved, and the desperately addicted of downtown Los Angeles. Now, 25 years later, Castellani has given out 999,889 sandwiches – just 111 short of 1million.
Today, he will serve up that millionth sandwich and with that, he thinks maybe God will relieve him of duty.
“I was told to do this,” Castellani, 79, said of his meal giveaways. “It wasn’t coming from the goodness of my heart. I was orchestrated by God. That’s the story. I was obedient to a call.”
PART II-SKID ROW-Among the homemade sandwiches doled out to the residents of Skid Row on Sunday morning, one carried special meaning for Ray Castellani.
Castellani first headed to the homeless encampments of downtown Los Angeles 25 years ago, with nothing more than 111 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a calling from God to help the less fortunate.
That calling never quite subsided.
On Sunday, he handed out his 1 millionth sandwich.
Cheers erupted from the line of men and women of Skid Row who stood on 5th and San Julian streets, where Castellani and volunteers park a van each week to distribute food.
For some who call the streets of Skid Row home, Castellani is a friend, a father, and a man dedicated to giving without asking for anything in return.
“These are my people,” Castellani, 79, said, after he shook hands with Lydell Young, the man who received the millionth sandwich.
“I love them all no matter where they come from,” he said. “This is where I belong.”
For Young, the millionth sandwich came as an unexpected joy, he said.
Young, 57, had simply stood in line to visit with Castellani, to accept some food and leave. Instead, he received a tuna sandwich with the number 1,000,000 written on a sticky note, a bag of lollipops and a T-shirt.
“Those who come to Skid Row to help people like us who are needy, are wonderful,” said Young, who has lived in the area since 2004. “Some people might say, hey, he’s just giving you a sandwich and some candy. But with Ray, it’s more than that.”