David Landis, your humble LCI President here.
Most people don’t know this, but I have a great deal of family in Anchorage, Alaska. In a way, it’s kind of my second home. My Uncle Paul – who in many ways is my role model for how to lead life (take chances, support the arts, have fun and give back to the community) – went there first, following the love of his life, now my Aunt Joan. Then my sister Kate (one of my true heroes in life), with her husband Lenny, followed. Then came nephews Nick & Ben.
So when my pal and uber-PR guru Esther Perman called and asked if I could help her with a campaign in Alaska, I jumped at the chance. See, I could help with her client and spend time with the Landis clan at the same time.
At least that’s how I saw it before I departed.
Anchorage couldn’t be more different than San Francisco. First, it was 65 degrees when I left S.F. and it was 19 degrees and snowing when I landed in Anchorage. While S.F. is a mature, sophisticated city, Anchorage is still by all accounts a small town and, frankly, the wild, wild west. And did I mention cold?
I was asked to go help with a longstanding client, Benjamin Moore, who is overseeing an amazing gift to the country. Benjamin Moore is helping paint 50 shelters in 50 cities (plus Washington, D.C.) in 50 days. Unbelievable. The program is called Color Care Across America and is a partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In Anchorage, they painted a wonderful place called Bean’s Café, which helps feed the needy.
Frankly, I live a pretty nice life in California and haven’t truly been exposed firsthand to the issue of homelessness. So I was anxious to learn.
The first night, I saw my family who was willing to loan me their 4-wheel-drive car. But the snow kept falling and falling and falling. Even the Alaskan Landises thought it was a bad idea for me to drive the next day.
My adventure started Monday morning when I planned to make the rounds to the local media outlets – bagels in hand (My mother, Laverne Shirley Landis, always said bring
a gift!). With the snow continuing to pile up and no available taxis, I was at a loss as to how to navigate Anchorage with 6 dozen bagels.
Staying at the Sheraton Anchorage, I humbly asked the front desk if they could help. Lo and behold, a wonderful man named Dave who worked the night shift said he’d be happy to take me around. We bundled into his van and began our journey through the drifting snow (apparently Anchorage doesn’t believe in snow plows). And I heard his story.
You see, Dave had been homeless. In Anchorage. We’re not talking 65 degrees and sunny San Francisco. We’re talking 19 degrees, snowy, blustery, windy, cold Anchorage. It turns out, he’d had meals at Bean’s Café. Dave lived on the street. But he was one of the lucky ones. He made it. 66 people died in Anchorage on the streets last year.
Dave’s dad told him that he could change his life. And he did. He got into a training program with the Sheraton and now has a great job. And I’m sure those meals at Bean’s Café helped.
We made our rounds to the media outlets and, despite getting stuck in a couple of
snowbanks, we made it through the storm to Bean’s Cafe.
What an incredible place. The buzz of the kitchen combined with a complete painting overhaul in progress was exhilarating. Steve Lozano of local Benjamin Moore retailer Curtis & Campbell had lined up three local paint contractors – each of which was donating their services. One was Benjamin Campbell (of the Campbell family that started Curtis & Campbell), as well as Victor & Matt Trujillo of Magic Painting & Taping and Jose Hernandez of Hernandez Painting.
Bean’s Café served close to 100,000 meals last year. But the facility hadn’t been painted in almost a decade. It showed. Lots of smudges and dirty walls, and more than that just kind of a pale off-white permeated the facility. I learned through this process how color can actually make a house a true home. Warm yellows started appearing, with accents of rust brown and steel blue. Suddenly, Bean’s Café exhibited the life,
warmth and character that it demonstrates to its guests every day.
I met some memorable folks at Bean’s. One gentleman was a Native Alaskan (whose name I’ve since forgotten) who has volunteered at Bean’s for 30 years. He had just been beaten up by a teenager – and it showed. But nothing would deter
him from serving coffee to the kitchen staff.
I met Jim Crockett, Bean’s Café’s charismatic Executive Director, who talked about how the Café has started a program called the Lunch Box to make sure every student in Anchorage who needs a meal gets one. The program also provides needy students with a weekend’s worth of meals at school on Friday. He also told me about their holiday gift program, called the Beanie Boxes. Anyone can buy a box to be given to one of Bean’s clients so they receive a gift they can use this holiday season.
The followed day, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan visited Bean’s and even pitched in with a paintbrush. Benjamin Moore’s Jim Delanty adeptly oversaw the entire process, donning his overalls to help out as well. By the end of Tuesday, Bean’s Café was looking good.
So what did I learn? I learned the value of giving; I learned how color can transform lives; I learned how people, despite all odds, can turn their lives around. And I saw firsthand how people continue to help others even when it’s not so easy to do or when the economy doesn’t cooperate.
Most of all, I am thankful to have a roof over my head, 3 square meals a day and heat on a winter’s night. Let us never forget – or forget to help – the millions of Americans who don’t have this privilege (but should).
Finally, I learned that Anchorage is looking more and more like
Please comment below and/or email with your thoughts about home – and how to help the homeless this holiday season: [email protected]