FROM LEFT: Anne and Kirk Douglas with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Kirk and Anne Douglas hosting Thanksgiving dinner at the Los Angeles Mission
Growing up in Amsterdam, New York, we lived on the poor side of town, near the carpet mills and railroad tracks. Often we didn’t have money for toothpaste or food to feed our large family. And yet my mother made sure we never went to bed hungry, and we always brushed our teeth—with salt.
I remember one afternoon—I must have been six or seven years old—a hobo came to our house asking for food. I was frightened by the dirty man, but my mother found him something to eat. When I asked my mother why she did that, she said, “You should always help someone worse off than you are.”
In 1987 at the urging of my friend the late author Sidney Sheldon, my wife, Anne, and I visited the Los Angeles Mission. During our tour of the facilities, Anne asked where the homeless women slept. They pointed to two cots divided by a curtain, which separated the women from the men. This deeply upset Anne, and in 1992 she created The Anne Douglas Center. The center is a separate building with beautiful rooms to accommodate 30-36 women, in addition to showers and emergency services for females living on the street.
My wife didn’t stop there. She recruited her good friend Vera Brown to teach the women about makeup and skin care and encouraged my fitness trainer, Cathy Nadell, to set up exercise classes. She even got my speech therapist, Betty McMicken, involved by having her work with women and men who had speech disorders. What can I say? My wife is incredible.
The Los Angeles Mission, together with The Anne Douglas Center, serves 600,000 meals to men and women every year. They offer drug and alcohol rehabilitation and continuing-education and job-training programs, as well as transitional housing—giving people the tools to succeed in a life off the streets.
My wife and I host Thanksgiving dinner at the Los Angeles Mission and have done so for many years. It’s a gratifying experience handing a hot meal to those who need it. On Christmas Eve, the Los Angeles Mission hosts a Christmas dinner for the men, women and children of Skid Row, complete with Santa to pass out toys.
As I look at this wonderful organization, the lives they have touched and changed by caring enough to give to those less fortunate, I can’t help but remember the words my mother said to me so many years ago: “Help someone worse off than you are.” Visit losangelesmission.org.