Richard Carlson was having a few drinks with a group of friends in the shipping industry one evening when he suggested they do something for the poor and homeless during the holiday season.
"On a whim, I said, 'Why don't everyone come with about four or five cans of food at our next get-together,' " said Carlson, who is marketing director for Fast Lane Transportation Co. of Wilmington. "We could collect 1,000 cans easily."
Word of Carlson's idea got around the waterfront and before he knew it, everyone "wanted on the bandwagon," he said.
On Thursday, volunteers picked up the results of Carlson's casual suggestion--more than 20,000 cans of food that had been donated by shipping companies and employees in the Long Beach and Los Angeles harbor complex in just 10 days. The effort was capped Thursday night with an informal reception for the donors by Love Is Feeding Everyone (LIFE), a relief group founded in 1983 by actors Dennis Weaver and Valerie Harper.
Among the companies Carlson contacted were the Long Beach Container Terminal, Sea-Land Services Inc., International Transportation Services and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. All of them immediately offered to help with the drive, Carlson said.
Glenn Johnson, a foreman with Long Beach Container Terminal, said employees there collected food and money. The company donated a 20-foot container and matched employee contributions dollar for dollar, raising a total of $2,500 to buy more food for the drive.
"It's the most fantastic thing that has happened in the harbor," Johnson said.
International Transportation Services also donated a 20-foot container and an additional $5,000 to buy food to fill it, said Carolyn Martin, assistant director of customer services.
Sea-Land Services Inc. offered a 45-foot container to the drive and passed out flyers to employees encouraging them to collect food for the effort.
Although they only joined in the drive within the past few days, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach said barrels left at their headquarters have been filled with canned food by their tenants.
"Some of our (tenants) collected money as well," said Port of Los Angeles spokesman Chuck Ellis.
Carlson said he has been astonished by the industry's rallying together.
"I would've been happy with 1,000 cans," Carlson said. "Instead, the entire steamship industry, down to clericals, banded together and the amount collected surpassed my expectations."
Thursday, truckers from Pac Rim Container Service of Long Beach delivered the containers to a Long Beach restaurant, where LIFE's founders Weaver and Harper, along with other celebrities, accepted the food for the agency.
"We want to say thank you to the maritime industry and its people," Weaver said.
He also praised Carlson for his initiative. "It's an exciting food drive because it was started by one fellow," Weaver said. "It shows the power we have as an individual if we utilize it."