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Bagel Brigade Takes Aim At Hunger

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For the last seventeen years, 88-year-old Herman Berman's days have begun at dawn. Berman is the founder of the Bagel Brigade, a crew with average age of 78 who get up before the sun each day to collect bagels and day-old breads. They deliver the breads and bagels to needy families and the disabled.


Seventeen years ago, a retired jeweler named Herman Berman started what he called the Bagel Brigade to deliver leftover food to the needy in Los Angeles. The brigade is still going strong with a volunteer force whose average age is 70-something. Gloria Hillard caught up with them on a recent early morning.

GLORIA HILLARD: It was a pre-dawn rendezvous in the parking lot of a chain supermarket, quiet except for the slight buzz of street lamps and an occasional delivery truck.

(Soundbite of truck)

HILLARD: That's when a hooded figure stepped out from behind an empty shopping cart.

Mr. ART SIEGEL(ph): I don't like to bring it out too early, but as it is, the early bird catches the worm, so to speak.

HILLARD: That's 81-year-old Art Siegel under the nylon hoody. His partner in a red baseball cap is 76-year-old Art Brom(ph).

(Soundbite of truck door opening)

HILLARD: A truck driver approaches Siegel and Brom with a huge cart of dough, loaves of rye, wheat and sourdough, baguettes, even some fancy biscotti.

Mr. ART BROM: This is the day old, of course, but it's still fresh. You know, you feel it.

HILLARD: Siegel and Brom load the goods into an older white van with Bagel Brigade, Emergency Food Delivery, on the door.

Mr. SIEGEL: And you feel that you're helping out your fellow man, and that's the important thing.

HILLARD: About a dozen supermarkets, delis and bakeries donate goods to the Bagel Brigade, but not all the drivers who provide them with the day-old goods have the blessings of the companies they work for. This handoff is on the sly.

Mr. SIEGEL: That's it?

Mr. BROM: Okay, thank you. And thank you for taking your day off to come in.

Unidentified Man: All right. No problem.

HILLARD: The van is full, the sun is up. Time for deliveries.

Mr. SIEGEL: We go as far as our bread takes us on our daily route.

(Soundbite of applause)

HILLARD: The first stop is Noble Avenue Elementary in a low-income neighborhood of Los Angeles. Siegel is a familiar face here and parents know when it's delivery day. Inside a packed classroom more than two dozen grateful mothers -some with infants and toddlers - are waiting for Siegel, wanting to shake his hand, give him a hug.

Unidentified Woman #1: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Mr. SIEGEL: You're welcome.

Unidentified Woman #2: Bless you guys.

HILLARD: Kira Schneider(ph) is the school's principal.

Ms. KIRA SCHNEIDER (Principal): This is just one way to kind of hold them over. They really rely on it. They know the days that they're coming and it's, you know, one way to keep those bellies full.

HILLARD: It's the same scene at another school, and another.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Woman #3: Thank you very much.

HILLARD: For someone who's been doing this for seven years, the moment still gets to Art Siegel.

Mr. SIEGEL: It makes us happy, doesn't it, Art?

Mr. BROM: Gives us joy.

Mr. SIEGEL: Much joy. I don't know what else to, how you can phrase it any other way. And knowing that they appreciate it, that's all I want to know.

HILLARD: And then the two Arts got back in the van to travel as far as their bread will take them.

For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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