Culver City Observer -

By Sandra Coopersmith
Features Writer 

Saint Paul of Culver City

A Man on a Mission

 

Paul Erlich

By

Sandra Coopersmith

When it comes to hands-on involvement in helping the poor and homeless, Paul Ehrlich, whom I would definitely rate as one of the good guys, is no slacker.

Every Saturday morning his dining room table transforms into a work station where sandwiches are made and bagged along with a bottle of water, piece of fruit and some kind of dessert for distribution to the poor and homeless he encounters along his route that day. Leftover food and any merchandise that has been donated (clothing, toiletries, etc.) are dropped off at a shelter.

I know because I spent Saturday, June 16 not only covering his activities for this story but participating. "I'm going to put you to work," he said when he picked me up at 10:30 a.m.

He wasn't kidding.

The man and woman who had been assisting him are now, unfortunately, out of the picture because "she lost a son-in-law and he lost a kidney." And his grandnephew who would also volunteer was out of town and wouldn't be returning until later that day.

Accordingly, I became quite efficient at making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bagging lunches containing a bottle of water, a banana, a sandwich and three Oreo cookies. Paul and I even went into his garden to gather fruit (grapefruit and tomatoes) to deliver to the shelter.

Every Thursday he posts a reminder on Facebook for folks to bring him lunches before noon that Saturday to feed the homeless. The 99 Cent Store, Costco and Smart & Final are suggested as good places for food. A typical lunch bag is described as including made-up sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly, baloney, processed cheese, mustard or mayo), fruit (banana, apple, Cutie-citrus), a dessert bar, a bottle of water, cookies, and a napkin. People are also invited to donate optional items such as socks, toiletries such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, blankets, pillows, tarps, and leftover food from a party. The drop off point is his home at 11472 Diller Ave., Culver City, CA 90230.

"People sometimes call me at night during the week after a party or event and tell me they have all this leftover food and don't know what to do with it," Paul said. He also mentioned that Whole Foods in Marina del Rey is a generous food contributor. He does not accept monetary donations.

Before we got ready to load up the car and roll on, I asked him what, other than a good heart, had specifically prompted him to take on this task.

The good heart was a given, as he had earlier mentioned that about four years ago he and his wife Madeline, who died in July of last year, had taken in two minors, the children of a nephew who had died. "They were very poor," he said. "The girl was 17 and the boy 14. I set up a checking account for each and gave them an allowance each Monday so they could budget as a life lesson and put money in three places: spending, saving, and giving to charity. Even if you're poor, you give anyway. When school was over we'd go to the 99 Cent Store and buy things to set aside for poor people. On Saturday we'd go to parks in Santa Monica to distribute."

The groundwork was being laid.

Paul chuckled as he recalled his grandniece going to a park with a bagged lunch and coming across a sleeping homeless person lying on the ground: "She put the lunch beside him, he woke up and, looking up at her, exclaimed, 'My God, I died and I went to heaven!'"

Then, three years ago he and his wife did the homeless count. "We correctly treat homelessness as a number," he said, "but we felt maybe we should do something more. Madeline was determined to make a difference. She was the driving force, and I see this as her legacy."

Madeline Ehrlich was well known and well-loved for her many activities and was a sparkplug for change. She was passionate about education and language immersion, and her many accomplishments included serving on the School Board from 1991-1995. She helped reopen El Marino Elementary School as a dedicated language school with the Japanese language immersion program.

She refused to see the homeless as invisible, and my eyes were certainly opened that afternoon as Paul and I drove to our first distribution stop, the Home Depot in Marina del Rey, then to Third and Rose in Venice. The contrast of trendy restaurants on a street a block or two away from homeless people just trying to survive on the street was marked and disturbing.

"The objective is to get here before the police come in squad cars or on horseback to clear the streets," Paul said. I became very adept at quickly handing out lunches, for which I received a profusion of thank you's and God bless you's.

"Giving away food is complicated," Paul commented, as we were politely but firmly turned away from a Santa Monica park by an official who saw us heading in with lunch bags. He directed us to OPCC (Ocean Park Community Center), where we unloaded everything that was left.

Paul mentioned that there are about 175 homeless in Culver City, and that same day a meeting was being held at the Culver City Senior Center with an outside consultant the city had hired to address the homeless situation and find out what the citizens want.

"The city has resources, as there's money left over from development," Paul said. "There's also money from Measure H raising the sales tax by ¼ percent, earmarked for the homeless."

I asked what he thought should be done.

"I think there should be a place of housing at West LA College for homeless or low income students," he responded. "It could be a dormitory. The city could also give out tents because when you pass under a freeway you see people huddled without any protection. We have a housing shortage and this would help. There has to be provision for social services, toilets, showers, and basic security.

"People could be hired to help with social services in partnership with Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, and the city and school district could get together on programs. The school district already has some in place."

He referred to the Culver City Council PTA's Backpacks for Kids Program, ccbackpacksforkids.com, for hungry children. The easy-to-prepare food is discreetly distributed in ordinary backpacks that the students take home over the weekends during the school year. Another program is the Culver Closet, culvercloset.com, which collects clothing, toiletries, shoes and other items to assist students in the Culver City School District who need a helping hand.

"The homeless have unusual needs," Paul said, citing "clothes, food, psychological services, dealing with social fallout – the whole gamut." He shared an anecdote about how easy it is to fall through the cracks.

Photo Courtesy thefrontpageonline.com

Madeline Erlich

"There was a teenager who was a refugee from Guatemala and living in a garage with his mother and about a dozen other Guatemalans," he recalled. "He was a senior. The mom got sick with stomach cancer and died. The other occupants told him that since his mother wasn't here and he was old enough to be an adult, he had to go. They threw him out without a safety net, homeless and without income. He wound up asking for help from the school district and they called me. He became my sixth child." Paul's three children plus the grandniece and grandnephew he had taken in comprise the other five.

"He lived with me for a while," he continued. "A year ago he graduated high school. Then I enrolled him in West LA College and he is currently in the Job Corps." Another one saved . . .

Paul can be reached at (310) 913-2287 and pmsha@aol.com. He can use food and other items as well as volunteers to assist on Saturdays. We can indeed make a difference for a hungry person, even if it's with one sandwich at a time, so please help him preserve Madeline's legacy of love and caring for those in need.

 

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