National News

Bishop O’Connell Ministered Even ‘To The Margins’ on L.A.’s Skid Row

LOS ANGELES — At a street corner outside San Julian Park in the heart of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles on March 2, homeless people line up outside a bright yellow food truck to receive what will likely be their only hot meal of the day. 

The organization sponsoring the food truck, Feed My Poor, serves 300 meals a day across three locations along Skid Row. Those at the helm of the initiative say they don’t see an immediate fix to the deprivation on Skid Row or the city’s homelessness crisis, but they consider it their job to serve those in need, something Bishop David O’Connell was all about. 

They say Bishop O’Connell joined them in their mission to serve the poor on at least two occasions when Feed My Poor was a different initiative with a similar purpose. 

“If we knew how to fix this we wouldn’t be standing here right now. This isn’t something that’s new. It’s a long, long problem,” Mike Manhardt said. “That’s why we say, ‘Forget about me I love you,’ … let’s just go love. Let’s go serve. Let’s put the needs of others before ourselves and that’s something that Bishop Dave O’Connell was all about.” 

Manhardt, the founder of the Anaheim Studios production company, has been involved in serving the homeless since 2015. At that time he had about a year off from work because of his company’s relocation from Anaheim to Los Angeles. 

Through prayer, he decided to spend the time giving back. He “purged” his closet and brought the clothes to Venice Beach to give them away to the homeless. While there, he met a group of people giving away food to the homeless and joined them — he handed out clothes, they handed out food. From there, they developed a partnership called Share A Meal. 

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, when their operation was shut down by then-Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had the ability to do so because it received government funding. Manhardt took the news to Beverly Hills pastor Father Ed Benioff, and they decided to launch Feed My Poor as a nonprofit, enabling it to operate on Skid Row. 

Father Benioff said their goal is to save as many lives as they can, which is why they choose to go to Skid Row, “one of the most dire places on the planet. 

“Here at Feed My Poor we have a very specialized emphasis, which is food,” said Father Benioff, who leads Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. “We want to keep them alive. We’re here to keep them alive with a good, hot, nutritious meal.” 

For the hours The Tablet visited the Feed My Poor food truck the line to get food was consistent. For safety purposes, there is a security guard who staffs the truck’s service window, but by and large, the people remained peaceful and were simply thankful for the meal. 

Homeless people came from all directions, hoping to get one of those meals. During that time, not many cars drove through the area. Encampments lined both sides of the adjacent streets. The sidewalks were occupied by tent structures, and people sitting in chairs or on the ground, in an area they’ve claimed as their own. 

People came even after the food truck had closed its window for the day. When they arrived to see it was no longer open, they would ask why, and when they got their answer that they had given their meals for the day they would most often respond with, “Thank you. God bless,” and continue on their way to another part of town. 

Both Manhardt and Father Benioff recognize many of the regulars who come, knowing the food truck will be in that spot every day. The priest said it’s important to humanize each person.

“I don’t know them that well, I don’t know their stories that well, but I just try to get their name and at least give them a smile and treat them like a human being,” Father Benioff said. 

Key to the organization’s mindset is Matthew 25. 

“They are children of God. They are people Jesus calls in Matthew 25 ‘the least among us,’ but what’s so important, He says, is ‘what you do to these least among us, how you treat these least among us,’ and He tells us how to treat them — give a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger,” Manhardt explained. 

“When we see someone who is living on the street we’re not going to turn our backs. We’re going to acknowledge, and give them love,” he continued, adding that they’re not afraid to be in Skid Row because “if we’re walking with the Lord, he’s got us, we’re protected.” 

Father Benioff said he continues the work with Mother Teresa’s and Pope Francis’ calls to go to the margins in mind. He said Bishop O’Connell lived that call to the fullest. 

“He was the ideal Pope Francis priest/bishop in the sense that he went to the margins,” Father Benioff said. “His entire priesthood he was servicing the forgotten, the undocumented, gang members, everything. Dave saw that as a call of Christ. He was an amazing priest and bishop.”