A sidewalk cafe, of sorts A caring caterer feeds the homeless

February 15, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Every Sunday in the depths of winter, caterer J. Leonard Schleider pitches a tent on a Fells Point sidewalk and lays out a spread for his weekly customers -- the homeless.

Mr. Schleider takes a break from catering meals for such glamorous events as pre-inauguration parties and sports receptions to feed and clothe this clientele.

He sets up shop on Aliceanna Street, working with several helpers to set up tables and unload large containers of hot and cold drinks, food and serving trays from their Cameo Caterers truck.

"I treat this as a catered affair," he says. "I don't want to be late, and I don't want to run out of food."

Mr. Schleider, 55, said recently he has done this on Sunday mornings in January and February since 1987, spending about $600 on food and supplies and half a day for each meal.

He says he feeds between 130 and 175 people each week. No charge; no questions.

"They are very private," he said. "Those who [volunteer to] talk say they had a college education. They had good jobs but lost them. I'm curious like anybody else about their stories, but I just don't ask them."

Mr. Schleider said he first fed hungry people in 1984, when he was catering an event related to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He said he participated in a program there for hungry children.

Eventually, he contacted the mayor's office in Baltimore and gained permission to set up his buffet table on Aliceanna, just west of Broadway.

He said the only problem has been from neighbors who complained "that we're bringing the wrong people into the neighborhood."

Mr. Schleider said he does not provide the service to get credit for a charitable tax contribution. He said he doesn't even write off any of his expenses.

So what's his motivation?

"I've always worried about older people who are left alone," he said. "I've worried about people who ask for public assistance and never get it. I have something that people don't have, and this is better than having food tossed away."

Mr. Schleider, who owns Cameo Caterers and Schleider Caterers of Northwest Baltimore, quickly added that these Sunday meals are not throwaway stuff. Only the pastries and danish are leftovers, he said.

Last week's menu of chicken chow mein with noodles and rice, vegetable soup, coffee and juice, for example, was prepared just for the midday Sunday crowd, he said. And the buffet-style spread is the same kind of meal that he often dishes out to his regular clientele.

"I think this is a good idea, because I'm one of the homeless and I appreciate this," said James Earl House, 49, finishing his meal last week with a cup of coffee.

"The food is pretty good, and it is an all-around diet -- fruit, entree -- everything."

The crowd that day included regulars like Mary Miller, 59, who lives nearby and enjoyed the "delicious" meal, and James Hall, 49, a first-timer.

"I appreciate everything I get. God is good," said Mr. Hall.

After the meal Mr. Schleider's sister, Anita Baum, passed out coats, blankets and boots that came from the family's private collection or from friends.

"This is great. It works," said Wesley Spicer, 23, as he zipped up a hooded winter coat that once had belonged to Mr. Schleider. "I like that someone's taking some attention to some of us out here and giving us something to eat, even if we don't have a place to stay."

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