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Loaves multiply in the hands of Bagel Brigade

February 08, 2009|STEVE LOPEZ

At a Pavilions on Ventura, he picks up two shopping carts filled with bread and 24 cases of frozen dinners, loading heavy boxes into his van. On the way out of the store, he seizes up and stops cold, as if he's about to keel over. He reaches into his pocket for a small bottle of NitroQuick, and he pops a pill that opens his blood vessels.

"I've had two heart attacks," he says, but he's back in the van a minute later, as if nothing happened.

You OK? I ask.

"I'm fine," he says and he hits the gas.

The ranks of the needy are only going to grow, Siegel says, and somebody's got to do this. He doesn't question the need, never judges the recipients. This is his town, these are his neighbors, and charity makes a man whole.

He walks into stores in full schmooze mode: "How you doing, sweetheart" and "Hello, pal."

The trick is to think of yourself as a reverse salesman, he tells me. You're taking, not selling, but you've still got to work it, "get a little camaraderie thing going."

At one store, he practically hijacks the Buona Forchetta bread truck as driver Juan Castellon pulls in with a predawn delivery.

"I'm not supposed to give the bread away," Castellon tells me, smiling at his own weakness as Siegel grabs all the loaves he can get.

After the Costco distribution, Siegel's still got some cargo, so we make four more stops: at the L.A. Family Housing shelter, and then on to Noble Avenue Elementary, Rosa Parks Learning Center and Panorama City Elementary, where the Bagel Brigade's donations are handed out to parents.

"We love having them and they provide a great service," Panorama Principal Sylvia Guzman says as Siegel bums us a couple cups of coffee.

Ysabel Rodriguez, who takes the bread for the school and hands it over to parents, presents Siegel with a late Christmas present.

"Why'd you do that?" he asks.

"Because I love you," Rodriguez says.

Siegel had to cut back recently from five days to three, but says he won't quit until he has to.

"Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, and it comes back to you," he tells me. "That's what this is."

--

steve.lopez@latimes.com

(Anyone interested in joining the Bagel Brigade can call Herman Berman at [818] 788-4230 or Bill Holland at [818] 996-4811).

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