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‘It doesn’t take that much’: Man feeds homeless despite just making ends meet

Updated January 29, 2023 - 3:48 pm

Richard Birmingham is on a mission to bring sustenance to homeless people living in downtown Las Vegas.

Most days the 67-year-old Las Vegas man packs two bags of homemade sandwiches into the basket of one of the Regional Transportation Commission’s bike-share bicycles and rides off through downtown, handing out the sandwiches to the homeless.

Birmingham said he considers himself homeless as he bounces from hotel rooms to campgrounds, depending on how low hotel rates are. So far, he said, it hasn’t hampered his efforts to give back to the community.

“It’s so rewarding,” Birmingham said of giving back. “And I think a lot of people just don’t know how easy and how inexpensive it really is.”

On Wednesday, Birmingham embarked on his regular route through the arts district to downtown delivering his homemade sandwiches. Near the Chase Bank building in downtown Las Vegas he spotted a familiar face.

“I was looking for you!” Edna De La Fuente told Birmingham as she pushed her belongings along the sidewalk to get in the sun. De La Fuente, wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a navy-blue baseball cap over it, said she’s been living on the streets of downtown for the past three years and she hasn’t seen anyone quite like Birmingham.

With Birmingham’s basket almost empty, De La Fuente was in for a treat as Birmingham saved her a special off-the-menu item: a turkey sandwich on artisanal bread.

“Richard is super helpful,” said Deidre Renderos, another regular recipient said. “He brings tacos, sometimes he brings two or three pizzas with soda.”

Birmingham wasn’t always homeless. Up until 2009, he was a kindergarten teacher at Beckley Elementary School in Las Vegas for about 10 years when he needed to step away and take care of his father, who was ill. Then, as he was slowly getting back into substitute teaching, the world was struck by COVID-19.

“The pandemic hit and I’ve just been making it up as I go,” Birmingham said, who now lives off about $1,000 a month. “I haven’t had to sleep on the streets, but right now I’m basically just making ends meet.”

On average, Birmingham spends no more than $200 a month to be able to give turkey, ham, peanut butter and jelly and, occasionally, bologna sandwiches for those living on the streets.

“Sometimes you give and sometimes you receive”

Those touched by Birmingham’s generosity said they get much more than a meal from their interactions with him. They see someone who cares enough to not only bring them food but also take time to chat with them.

“He keeps your spirits up,” said Mike Kelley, a homeless veteran living in the arts district area. “That really means something out here.”

Kelley said he considers Birmingham a friend.

On Tuesdays, Birmingham brings something different to his regulars.

When rates are low enough, Birmingham stays at The Strat. On Tuesdays, he checks out a bike from the bike share station across the street and buys 50 to 60 tacos from Jack in the Box to give them to folks instead of the sandwiches. The move has been greeted enthusiastically from a group of his regulars and has earned him the nickname “Taco Tuesday.”

As Birmingham pedalled, along with a reporter and photographer, near the Las Vegas Healing Garden in downtown Las Vegas, he was recognized by Alex Borne, who was sitting on a bench with his belongings on the ground next to him.

Borne was happy to see Birmingham in action and recalled his own days of being able to give back.

“Sometimes you give and sometimes you receive,” Borne said, acknowledging that now he’s on the receiving end from Birmingham.

People living on the streets near downtown manage to get by because of the meals and resources that are donated daily, but the homeless often don’t always know where to go, Birmingham said.

That’s why at every stop, Birmingham makes sure to remind everyone of the other available resources for those days he can’t make it out to them.

Renderos noted that there are others out there who care about the homeless downtown.

“There will be times the people that live and work (downtown) will help,” she said.

Anyone can do this

Before he started giving back, Birmingham said he didn’t appreciate the value of caring for others. But when his father needed care, Birmingham stepped up and dropped everything in 2009 to provide his care.

“After that, I decided not to be selfish anymore,” Birmingham said.

He found religion and started out by giving peanut butter crackers to the people on the street on occasion. After a year and a half of providing his donations, he’s been able to buy the supplies so that each of his sandwiches costs no more than 50 cents. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cost even less, roughly 35 cents each.

“It doesn’t take that much to do much like this,” Birmingham said. “There’s no reason why other people can’t get on a bike and pick a little area and give some food.”

Birmingham buys a lot of his supplies from the 99 Cents Only Stores and Sam’s Club, and it takes about an hour to make more than 30 sandwiches.

“I’m able to do this do it because I’m able to get a great hotel rate at The Strat,” Birmingham said, noting he would be able to help even more if he could continue getting low rates at the hotel.

In February, he said, he’ll be able to give out food for 20 days because of inexpensive rates at The Strat.

The following three months promise to be more challenging, and Birmingham said he’ll only be able to stay two weeks each month until the end of May when he said he’ll likely be priced out for the summer.

Birmingham said he wants to set up a GoFundMe but is unfamiliar with how to do it and is hoping someone from the public will volunteer to help him. To contact Birmingham, email him at xosder22@yahoo.com.

Contact Jimmy Romo at jromo@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0350. Follow @jimi_writes on Twitter.

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