Below zero temperature is no stranger to the streets Minneapolis. Neither is Allan Law. Nicknamed “The Sandwich Man,” Law, a retired inner-city school teacher, gratefully and dutifully chooses to spend his nights distributing sandwiches and basic necessities to the homeless from the back of his minivan, labeled “Love One Another.”
The Minneapolis Recreation Development Inc. (MRD), the volunteer-led non-profit organization that Law founded in 1967, has facilitated the preparation and delivery of sandwiches donated by over 700 community groups, schools, churches, individuals, and companies. And having passed out 520,000 sandwiches, 2,000 blankets, and up to 3,000 pairs of socks to the homeless in the last year, there’s certainly no shortage of need.
“I’ve been on the street every night for over 12 years, and a night doesn’t go by that you don’t run into people that really really need some help,” Law says gravely. “There’s a lot of people out there just trying to survive. My neighbors see me wheeling the grocery cart up and down with 6-700 sandwiches at a time, and making a couple loads to my car every night when I go out at about 8:00pm. And then, I get in usually by noon the next day.”
Law’s full-time dedication to the homeless was inspired by his teaching roots. He started out as a 6th grade teacher in the inner city of Minneapolis in 1967. Many of the students he taught lived in poverty and lacked significant parental figures. Noticing this hole in his students’ lives, he reacted by giving his time—all evenings and weekends—to act as a kind of parental guide to those students in need. In 1999, Law retired from his teaching profession, understanding that “This is not something that’s just in the inner-cities and that’s it.” As a result, Law decided to expand his horizons to help not only students, but the forgotten homeless community of Minneapolis.
“I’ve met a lot of his ex-students that are now in their 40s,” says Steve Aase, who works with Law at the MRD. “He’s helping generations after generations of people, and he’s been a fixture for 45 years in the community.”
Though Law is not alone in his endeavors to commit his time to the needy, those who work with him and are touched by his generosity see him as a pillar of philanthropy in the community. Aase attests, “Allan is the vessel through which the compassion of the community flows. It’s a magical, kind of spiritual, thing.” The “magic” of Law’s work is not held simply in his generosity and empathy for the needy. What sets him apart is the consistency in his empathy, as he lives an almost nocturnal existence in order to be in touch with the often forgotten and unseen nighttime homeless community. “Nighttime is a big deal for him, because that’s when all the other resources dry up and the shelters close,” says Aase. “He is a rolling, problem-solving care center on four wheels… He is absolutely committed to helping people every night.”
There is clearly recognition from those Law helps on a night-to-night basis, as several greet him by name and warmly clasp both hands around his with palpable gratitude. One man, who has been touched by Law’s generosity and faithfulness to the program, states, “He’s gone to another level to where we’ve got us an example. And he’s faithful. It ain’t like he’s not gonna be here tomorrow night. You know he’s going to be here.”
Kevin Carroll, a security guard at the Minneapolis Salvation Army, has seen the impact of Law’s work for the past 5 years he’s been working there. “He exemplifies for everyone else to follow, this is what we’re supposed to do,” says Carroll. “To help, to give, to share, to love.”
Law’s unfailing dedication to “Love One Another”—the slogan pasted in large white letters on the side of his sandwich delivery minivan—has been a mantra that he has lived by to the point of true selflessness. Sleeping a mere 3 to 4 hours a day, Law’s health has not gone unaffected. “I have a physical, and the doctor told me, ‘You have to stop working at night.’ He said, ‘Are you still living on 3 or 4 hours of sleep a day?’ Yes. ‘You know that’s not good for you.’ I know.” And yet, Law feels a sense a duty in living this lifestyle, as it is, in a way, a true gesture of empathy toward those he helps.
Passing out sandwiches to a group huddled outside the back of his van in the freezing Minneapolis cold, Law responds, “You know where I sleep at night? In the front seat! I haven’t slept in a bed in 13 years—not one night. This is what I have to do for the rest of my life.”
Those close to him, knowing the impact on his own health, often ask him why he does what he does. His response is simple: “If I was homeless and I was hungry, and someone brought me a sandwich, I’d say—thank you.”
Spreading the word that help is needed more than ever, and that we must not turn a blind eye to the needy who are often overlooked, Law pep-talks a group of young volunteers who have come in support. “The most important thing this program delivers is compassion,” he reminds them before sending them on their mission. And his words are certainly not lost on his audience, both young and old.
“It’s not going to be good if people keep saying, ‘me, me, me,’” says a little girl, truly understanding the purpose behind the sandwiches she has diligently been preparing for the night. “It’s an awful big world,” an elderly volunteer says, inspired to influence change in her community. “My kids say, you can’t save the world, mother. And I say… well!” she declares with gumption.
A few hundred thousand sandwiches may help ease the hunger issue in Minneapolis, but it certainly doesn’t solve it. But inspiring others with his own actions to believe in change and, most importantly, act on it is more likely the greatest contribution that Law has made in his community—and to the rest of the world. “That’s what it’s all about—changing lives for the better,” Law says, with a smile. “And I’m so lucky because I get to deliver the food.”
Photo Credit: YouTube Screenshot