Rip Parker has a common thread with the 75 or so homeless people he feeds every night. He too has been down and out, troubled and lonely.
After buying 14 dry cleaning franchises in the Dallas area, Parker says he got caught up in the “greedy world of making money” and lost sight of priorities that really mattered – his own health and the well-being of his fellow man.
Parker’s business failed in the mid 1970s, causing him to lose nearly $300,000, his livelihood and his marriage.
“I got too wrapped up in material possessions – it cost me my marriage,” Parker says.
“Today, I literally have a closer walk with the Lord and try to do benevolent-type work for those less-fortunate. God expects this of us – we’re supposed to be our brother’s keeper and helper.”
For the past three years, every day of the week, Parker leaves his job as a salesman with a Dallas advertising specialty business, loads his van with sandwiches, blankets and clothes, and delivers them to homeless people who frequent the Downtown underpasses.
Parker began his act of kindness after he noticed several men lying on the sidewalk near the Farmer’s Market. Parker pulled over and offered the men some crackers and returned the next night with more food, eventually making the visits a nightly ritual.
His life has been threatened twice, and several men whom Parker says were “drunk and a little out of shape” have pulled knives on him. But the threats didn’t stop Parker, who is known as the “Rev” by the street people he befriends.
His crusade has grown to feeding some 100 needy people at night.
The City’s recent ordinance prohibiting the homeless from loitering on the streets and in front of businesses has brought those numbers down to 50 a night, Parker says. Because the police don’t enforce the ordinance as strongly on weekends, he feeds at least 150 people during those two days.
“If people came to the streets and witnessed what I see, it would amaze them how many of these people really want to find jobs, give up drugs and get their lives together,” he says.
Parker says some of the people he feeds have jobs, but they don’t pay enough to cover their bills. The people who don’t work have strikes against them in find employment because they don’t have cars or permanent addresses. He says he’s often asked whether his daily donations are encouraging the homeless to accept handouts rather than find work.
“I don’t judge these people. I just go down there to help them out – they would make it without me,” he says.
“They do the best they can do – they’re just not as materially blessed as we are.”
There are not enough resources such as shelters, soup kitchens and medical facilities for the City’s less fortunate, so Parker says he will continue to spend about $125 a week out of his own pocket to carry out his mission.
Parker is assisted in delivering the sandwiches three nights a week by several members of Park Cities Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and Sunday school teacher. Students at Moss Haven and Northlake Elementary make sandwiches once a week for Parker’s cause.
“God says that there will always be the poor and the homeless among us. I feel like it’s my duty to help them out,” he says.
Parker, who was one of this year’s winners of the JCPenney Golden rule Award for volunteerism, and the subject of a recent article published in the Dallas Morning News, says he doesn’t particularly enjoy the attention.
“If nothing else, I hope the publicity will just alert people that this exists,” Parker says.
“I don’t want to be the only hero – I wish 364 other people would come out and do what I do one night a year.”