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Around The Valley

Feeding the Body and Feeding the Spirit, the Rest of the Year

November 17, 1994|JOCELYN Y. STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Every year, right around this time, something strange starts to happen.

We remember that people have to eat--and we feed them.

From now until the holiday season ends, people who are poor, or homeless, or very ill, or very old and lonely will sit down to festive turkey dinners held in their honor or receive baskets of free food.

Many of the needy eat well this time of year.

Unfortunately, hunger has an annoying habit of showing up at inopportune times--like during the other 10 months of the year, when the Yuletide spirit has worn off and most people have retreated to their own woes.

The hungry will be hungry again after the Christmas lights have been packed up and the last strains of "Auld Lang Syne" have drifted away.

And who feeds them then?

People like June Spahr of Granada Hills and Ada Robinson of Pacoima.

This brisk autumn day, Spahr's white minivan is packed with her three kids, several bags of food and one reporter. Driving along the streets of Sun Valley, Spahr talks about the people she has come to know in her 2 1/2 years as a volunteer for Project Angel Food, a food-delivery service for homebound people with AIDS.

"Personally, if I'm going to reach out to people, I do it with food," she says after packing her van with specially prepared meals. "So this is a natural for me."

Often the people she takes food to are so ill they can't go grocery shopping, or cook for themselves, or even answer the front door when she arrives. Some just want her to bring the food and leave. Others need to talk.

"That's what I like," she says.

On days like this when they are not in school, her children ride along, helping to find the houses on the route sheet and taking turns carrying the food.

Kristina, 11, and 9-year-old twins D. J. and Garrett, sit in the back seats of the van talking about people on the route like they were old friends.

There's Bill, who once gave them a stuffed animal so big it wouldn't fit in the van. There was David, who let them play hide-and-seek and slide down the stairs in his house.

That was fun, "except you get carpet burn," Garrett said, smiling and rubbing his stomach.

"He made us a needlepoint," Kristina added. "He was great."

David died last year, around this time.

"I'd asked him to give me something of his life to keep in mine," Spahr said. "It's hard, because you see a lot of people come and go."

Sometimes by then, they have become more than clients--they are friends. And while the food brings them together, they are bound by much more.

The people at Angel Food say they are always in need of volunteers who can deliver meals. But there is never a shortage of people who need help. Always there are new people to replace the ones who die--new people who are ill and need food, too.

When a new person is added to Spahr's list, the first task is finding them.

"I can get lost in my driveway, " Spahr laughs. "Since I was small I have had no sense of direction."

"Seriously," Kristina agrees. "My brothers and I are used to this."

Spahr hopes that they will grow accustomed to other things too, like the idea of sharing "the gifts of life."

Their van stops in front of Mario's house and everybody gets out.

Mario is sitting in a recliner dressed in a robe with a scarf wrapped around his neck. Spahr hugs him. The children greet him.

"You look much better," she says.

"Do I really?" Mario asks.

For 2 1/2 years June has delivered food to Mario, before the illness made him so weak and left him blind. She always stays to talk.

"She's the first, and the very best," Mario says. "It's nice to have somebody to look forward to."

People who live in the Hansen Dam area look forward to Ada Robinson, who for five years has fed the homeless who sleep there.

Everybody calls her Mother Robinson. She has arthritis, walks with a cane and speaks her truth plainly. At 83, she can no longer lift the heavy pots she used to fill with black-eyed peas and collard greens.

But Mother Robinson can still give orders and after one conversation with her, you know people listen and obey.

"People tell me I'm too old to be doing this," she said, standing in her Pacoima garage, filled with bread, canned goods and other food for the homeless that she solicits from donors. "Listen, they didn't give me this job. I got news for you, God give me this job."

So every Thursday, she does the job God gave her, driving out to Hansen Dam with a few helpers. On a small hill, they set up shop.

Leaning on her wooden cane, she rattles off the names of her faithful helpers, like Santa taking an elf roll call. "Aileen, she cooks for me, Ora, Hilda, Christine, Thelma, they all help," she said. "Honey, I make it."

"Last week a lady come up and she says, 'Oh, it's raining, it's raining, Mother Robinson,' " suggesting they shouldn't go out with the weather so bad.

"I said, 'What's wrong with that?' I said, 'Ain't you gonna eat today? Those folks gotta eat too.' "

Every day.

Thankfully there are people like the Spahr family and Ada Robinson, and organizations and churches who deliver meals and hope to people who otherwise would have neither, except maybe around the holiday season.

There's something special about seeing the spirit of giving in people's lives even when there's no holiday around.

That should make us all feel merry.

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