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Truck Theft Stalls Food Giveaway

Driver Has No Way to Deliver Meals to Skid Row Homeless

Los Angeles Times - February 16, 1990

by Aaron Curtiss

During the past two years, a white pickup truck had become a fixture of sorts on the ever-changing, hopeless streets of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

Three times each week he parked the truck at the corner of 5th and San Pedro streets and used the pickup's tailgate as a makeshift sandwich bar from which he fed hundreds of the homeless men and women who call him "Papa."

But no more.

The 1979 Ford F-100 from which he served more than 118,000 meals was stolen Wednesday from the 4000 block of Hazeltine Avenue in Sherman Oaks. The truck is not insured against theft and Castellani, who does not work, said he cannot afford another one.

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"It was as if the plug had been pulled," Castellani said Thursday of the loss of his truck, one of 60,000 vehicles stolen each year in the city of Los Angeles. "You can open up the tailgate and feel the vibes in that truck. That truck, it was the hope. And when you take the hope from a human being, what do you have to spare?"

Castellani, 56, has little enough to spare. He house-sits for friends and at times has slept in the pickup, which he kept in immaculate condition.

He said he never knew from one day to the next whether he would have enough donated food to serve the "smelly, pukey, dirty, beautiful boys" that depended on him to bring them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna fish and hot dogs. But somehow the Frontline Foundation he formed in 1987 to carry out his mission survived on a shoestring budget and the food kept coming in.

A rotating staff of volunteers has helped assemble the meals in the basement kitchen of the United Methodist Church in Sherman Oaks. The cupboards there are crammed with cans of soup and fruit cocktail donated by individuals and San Fernando businesses.

Castellani served 111 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on his first trip to Skid Row. He now uses nearly 150 loaves of bread to serve 1,000 such sandwiches, the Saturday special, on an average weekend trip.

Los Angeles police said Thursday that they had no leads in tracking down the truck. On Wednesday Night volunteers drove their own cars to Skid row to deliver meals. But how the meals will get there in the future is uncertain.

Regardless, his determination to continue feeding the homeless on Skid Row in unflagging.

"That food will be there," he said. "Those people will not be let down. Not by me . . If I have to carry the food, it will be there."