A Bold Plan
KC MAN AIMS TO FEED, CLOTHE 1 MILLION HOMELESS PEOPLE
by Malcolm GarciaRichard Tripp won't get bogged down in details when he discusses his latest project, Long John 99.
It's fairly simple: He plans to feed 1 million homeless people in every state across the country on Nov. 27 and offer them thermal underwear to boot.
Never mind that November -- when you're planning dinner for a million guests -- is just around the corner. He's going to do it. Period. No buts. Spare him the details.
"In 1998 on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, we fed a combined 10,000 people here," said Tripp, director of Care of Poor People, a small nonprofit organization that helps feed and clothe the homeless in Kansas City.
"People from out of town coming through said, `I wish we could do this in my town.' It got me thinking: Why don't I feed people clear across the country? Why can't I?"
Tripp supports himself and the organization largely by driving a cab. He's short on cash, but not on confidence.
"I was going to target just seven cities across the country for this, but I don't want to do it that way," he said. "I don't want to limit myself. I've got faith. Anything I set my mind to happens."
Tripp comes by his confidence the hard way. As a child, he was crippled with polio. He married at 18 and had six children. But he started drinking, and his wife left him and took the children. He became homeless and lived under the Broadway Bridge in Kansas City for a year.
Eventually, he pulled himself together and dedicated himself to feeding and clothing the homeless. Now 50, he's been at it for 10 years, raising money through local donors familiar with his work and hitting up his cab fares for donations.
"The beautiful thing about a cab is that between downtown and the airport I got 20 minutes to lay a talk on everybody," he said. "And they can't get out."
Tripp is promoting Long John 99 through the organization's Web page right here.
"People need to go online in chat rooms, e-mail their friends, and get the word out," he said. "Get together with friends, figure out how you're going to get involved. I'm trying to make this a community thing. When I do these things, it's like a miracle happening."
That's what it may take.
"He's a person of high integrity, but he's late starting," said Hal Cowan, executive director of Unity Church of Overland Park, who has worked with Tripp. "It could be done if the right contacts are made and he has the time. He's got to hit the phones."
Mark van Hansen, author of the national best seller "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, wrote the introduction to Tripp's book, "It's Hip to Help the Homeless". Van Hansen is a supporter of Long John 99.
"The response has been phenomenal," said van Hansen's spokeswoman, Laura Rush, from van Hansen's office in Costa Mesa, Calif. "Local large churches here are very interested."
Greg Novak, vice president of Care of Poor People's board of directors, doubts that Tripp will meet his goal but is rooting for him nonetheless.
"You shoot for a million and you get less, you've still helped a lot of people," Novak said. "He will accomplish a lot. If nothing else, I think he'll get a greater push for meals and winter clothing because more people will hear about it. He'll reach more people than he normally does."
Tripp, however, won't accept anything less than 1 million.
"Nothing's going to kill this dream," he said. "It's a reality. We just haven't seen it yet."
This article appeared in the Kansas City Star and is distributed by the HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn
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