Feeding the homeless has become a family's affair

November 10, 1991|By Peter Jensen

It is Sunday again. Lunchtime. Anthony Franquelli swings open the back doors of the old Ford van he has parked by a fire hydrant, and the Franquellis look out to face the crowd. It is larger again. There are some familiar faces, but more unfamiliar ones. They press forward, all eyes and outstretched arms and reaching hands.

So many more this time. They push and shove against the van for a better position, anxious to grab the brown-bag lunches they have come to expect each Sunday afternoon.

Mr. Franquelli, his wife Angela, son, Anthony, and daughter, Jilleien, have spent hours making and packing these sandwiches.

Much of each weekend -- much of their lives, now -- is consumed with this Sunday task they have set for themselves on the streets of Baltimore. It has become the weekly mission they share as a family, the work they draw instruction from, the moment they anticipate.

And in 10 minutes it is done. The 238 meals are gone. Most of the hungry men and the handful of women and children have scattered down the streets, leaving only a few who missed the sandwiches.

They paw the remaining apples. And Angela Franquelli, looking after the forms disappearing down the streets, is left again with a mix of emotions that feel bittersweet: pride in what they have done as a family, guilt because it was not enough, uncertainty about the future. Can they do this again next Sunday? Can they feed more? Where will they find the money?

They resolve to do better. The following Sunday they give away 379 meals, a personal record, but the guilt remains.

"To me, if I had to say one week we're not going to do this anymore, I don't think I could live with it, knowing that these people would be waiting," said Mrs. Franquelli. "I live in a home and I'm warm. It would bother me. It really would."

Today will mark the 31st consecutive Sunday the family has made the 20-minute commute from their middle class subdivision in Anne Arundel County to feed the poor at a park one block south of Baltimore's elegantly baroque City Hall and two blocks north of the Inner Harbor's glittery development.

The tradition began modestly enough. The elder Franquellis resolved last April that they needed to get the whole family involved in a weekly community service project.

"We've always had enough for ourselves," said Mr. Franquelli, 47, a supervisor in the print shop at the University of Maryland in College Park. "We needed to show our children how to be compassionate."

It was the youngest Franquelli, 11-year-old Anthony, who suggested feeding the homeless. The others readily agreed. After attending services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Odenton, they prepared 10 lunches in the kitchen of their three-bedroom split-level home in Severn and drove up to Baltimore.

They had difficulty finding homeless people that first Sunday, giving away only nine of the lunches. Mr. Franquelli offered a sandwich to a tired and poorly dressed man sitting on a park bench -- only to discover he was a doctor on his lunch break.

But the family enjoyed the experience tremendously. The had attacked poverty and hunger first-hand. There was no middle-man charity, no administrative overhead.

"When we did it the first time, it was a high," said Mrs. Franquelli, 45. "I've never done drugs, but the high we felt must be like that."

The next week, they packed 14 lunches. They did not have enough to go around. Each Sunday since, the family has returned to the street, and the number of lunches has grown steadily -- 50, 100, 200.

"We found out it's hard to stop," Mrs. Franquelli said. "They're out there wanting, and we know it."

Homeless advocates say it's hard to measure how much impact several hundred lunches can have. On any given night, an estimated 2,500 people go without shelter in the city and winter is brutal for them.

"What difference do they make? It holds off hunger for about 250 people for a few hours," said Linda Eisenberg, director of the Maryland Food Committee. "You can't measure it any better than that."

Sundays are a particularly difficult time for the hungry. Many of the city's soup kitchens and food pantries are not open on weekends. It is the busiest day at Our Daily Bread, the nearest soup kitchen downtown which feeds an average 650 people.

"Soup kitchens can't meet everyone's needs," said Jeff Singer, community relations director for Health Care For The Homeless which operates a downtown clinic. "There are plenty of people hanging out on the streets with nowhere to go."

On Saturdays, the Franquellis set up a culinary assembly line in their garage which has come to smell like a farmer's market from all the boxes of produce. Completed lunches are stored in the garage refrigerator for bagging on Sundays.

They've never totaled the cost of their enterprise but it runs to the thousands of dollars. On an average week, they spend $100 on supplies, not counting what has been donated by friends.

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