Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Eve Giveaway

It would never have occurred to me, but my old TV-news-writing associate, Frank Feldinger came up with the concept. You see, he was among the folks I invited to come to a food feast at Frank's Restaurant in Burbank earlier this month. Everyone knew it was my attempt to bring some business to the restaurant our family friend, Jose Lopez bought three years ago when Genio's Restaurant closed down. As you may know, my mom worked there for some 35 years. Jose was the head chef --- and a great friend to her and to me.

Wouldn't you know it, not long after Jose got his life-dream restaurant up and running, the economy collapsed, the rent went up and people started eating at home a lot more --- hence my attempt to lure people to Frank's so they could discover on their own the shockingly good food this food artist creates.

My friend Frank Feldinger couldn't make it to the gathering, so he suggested that maybe he could pay for a meal for someone else. Bingo. The idea was born. Before long, generous and caring people sent a combined $150 to me so that I could buy gift certificates and distribute them to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to go out for a great meal.

We decided to divide the donations into 15 gift certificates with a face value of $10. Today, I was the lucky guy who got to distribute them. As luck would have it, when I drove out of his driveway at 916 W. Olive Ave. in Burbank, I spotted a regular visitor to the nearby George Izay Park. The locals refer to her as the Cat Lady. She's a well-educated woman who somehow found herself down and out and, for whatever reason, couldn't muscle her way back up. She usually beds down in temporary shelters in helpful people's backyards, but spends her days at the park caring for a handful of feral cats that live there. I caught up with her a ways up the street and told her about my generous friends. She said that she didn't like to eat alone, but asked if they'd give her food to go in exchange for the gift certificate. She was pleased to find that they would. She said that some of her friends had purchased her two nights of lodging at a hotel for Christmas. The take-out meal would make it a true Christmas for her.

I drove for a while and encountered a friend named Alvin who was returning on his bicycle with food he'd bought at the 99 Cents Only store for his 94-year-old mother. I flagged him down and asked if he could recommend someone worthy of the food script. He pointed me in the direction of an auto-repair garage that was allowing a down-and-out man to sleep at night. I returned to the park where I hooked up with a handful of homeless friends. One of them was willing to take some of the certificates to Frank's and buy food for everyone in the group. They ended up feasting on hamburgers, fries and soft drinks.

Next, I drove to that garage and met the man Alvin had mentioned. Alvin rode up on his bike and I gave them each a certificate. Next, I looked up a hard-working friend who I had heard had recently landed a minimum wage job that would allow him to lodge there as well. It was good to see that he had finally found a roof under which he could sleep. He was caring for a couple that are both confined to wheelchairs. He was helping them wrap Christmas gifts when I arrived.

Finally, I drove to the Salvation Army Family Store and strolled around until I found a likely family. The young woman was clearly building a tricycle motor (slang for "expecting a baby") and the man I thought was her husband was trying on shoes. It turns out he's her brother, but they were pleased to be able to use the remaining four gift certificates to take their struggling parents out for a meal.

I stopped back at Frank's in the late afternoon and was pleased to see that Alvin and his struggling friend were feasting on barbecued pork ribs and a patty melt. I felt particularly good when I returned to my office to start making gifts for my wife and son. Don't tell them, but I printed some great family photos on canvas and made them into three-dimensional, box-like photographs. I wish I could give more, but this just isn't the year for it.

Oh, by the way, thanks to Frank Feldinger and the other anonymous folks who decided to help a restaurant by helping some needy customers. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my friends and family!

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