When they see hunger, they can't stop giving Caring families feed needy at downtown park.

June 15, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

The Franquelli family has learned a lot in a year.

How to stop a fistfight over a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, for example. And what a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity is.

And how the money dries up when summer comes and people stop thinking about the homeless and the hungry.

Yesterday, 14 months after the Franquellis first handed out nine sandwiches in downtown Baltimore, this Severn family and a few friends distributed 600 bag lunches, an additional 300 sandwiches and several hundred bags of toiletries in a dusty park at Baltimore and South streets, just west of The Block.

On the north side of the park, Tom and Beulah Burkhardt, a Howard County couple inspired by the Franquellis' example, set up at 11:45 a.m., after the rush for bag lunches died down. They served hot dogs, cookies, pretzels and popcorn to an orderly line of men, women and children, less desperate now that they had had the Franquellis' food. The hot lunch would be their midday meal; the sandwiches could be eaten later.

"I envy them," Angela Franquelli said, watching the line move past the Burkhardts' card table. "They get to talk to the people, make eye contact. We don't have time for that."

This was a slow Sunday, with only a few hundred people in the park. It's still early June, Mrs. Franquelli pointed out with her newfound savvy. The homeless need the Franquellis' food every week, but others -- families who live on welfare checks and food stamps -- won't have to come until the end of the month, when the money runs out.

The Franquellis and their Sunday feeding effort, Simple Sacrifice for the Homeless, have come a long way in 14 months. A lawyer, working for free, helped them win non-profit designation, making donations tax-deductible. They added toiletries, purchasing surplus from the Persian Gulf War. Sometimes, they bring clothes to distribute.

They also have discovered the cyclic nature of giving.

Last November, when The Sun first wrote about the Franquellis, the family received $11,000 in 10 days. As a result, they expanded their program, increasing weekly expenditures from $100 to $500.

Seven months later, that money is gone, and so is the good will engendered by the winter holidays. Although new donations trickle in, the Franquellis worry that they will not be able to keep up with the growing demand through next winter.

"People are good for about four weeks," Mrs. Franquelli said. "Then after four weeks, they figure, let someone else give, or let someone else volunteer. They feel they've done their share."

But the Franquellis -- parents Anthony and Angela, children Jilleien and Anthony -- have not missed a Sunday since April 1991. The Burkhardts have been similarly faithful for the past six months.

As a result, they have become familiar and beloved faces at Baltimore and South streets. The men call Mr. Franquelli "Big Daddy." And they watch out for his children, quick to protect them from anyone who seems menacing.

"Hey, I love you!" a homeless man who identified himself only as Rick cried out to Mrs. Franquelli yesterday, exchanging a high-five. "This woman is the best."

But there are ugly moments.

Mrs. Franquelli has been knocked down by men pushing forward to grab the plastic bags of toiletries. Brawls are not uncommon.

"When you're real hungry and you're getting ready to reach for that bag, and someone grabs it before you do, I guess you feel a little tense," Mr. Franquelli said.

There was no talk of the future for Simple Sacrifice when the Franquellis started.

Now the only plan is to keep going. A truck would be nice, Mrs. Franquelli said, or a soup kitchen where they could prepare hot food.

"A shelter is probably out of the question," her husband said, but they have talked about it.

What about burnout, or the simple possibility that they might want their weekends back some day? Mrs. Franquelli said she can't imagine it.

"If you see hunger like this, you can't stop," she said.

The address of Simple Sacrifice for the Homeless is P.O. Box 544, Severn 21144.

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