Reporting Eric Henderson
This Saturday is Make a Difference Day, which organizers call the “largest national day of community service,” with millions of volunteers worldwide working together to help someone in need.
One local person who has been striving to make a difference on a daily basis is Allan Law, a retired Minneapolis school teacher who delivers sandwiches to the homeless and hungry around the Twin Cities, distributing the hundreds of thousands of free meals from out of the back of his van emblazoned with the logo/mantra “Love One Another.”
Law is one of the three people who are profiled in the new film project The Starfish Throwers, directed by Jesse Roesler and nearing completion.
The film deals with the many ways people choose to combat hunger, and how they maintain a positive attitude even when the odds seem stacked against ever reaching a solution. (Also profiled are a top chef who hand delivers meals, and a 9-year-old master gardener who has kickstarted more than 50 public vegetable gardens.)
Here’s a Q&A I shared with Roesler about the making of the film and how people can help out this weekend:
What inspired you to tackle the subject of world hunger, and how did you decide on a strategy to tell a story with such a potentially wide canvass?
Food and hunger have always been hot button issues for me, but what really started this journey was coming across the inspiring stories of the three subjects. I had seen a few documentaries that were more advocacy films, that highlighted what was wrong with our food system and how we were failing to solve the hunger crises. So with inspiration from these three individuals, I wanted to make a film that would highlight what a few brave (and unlikely) people were doing to help — and how in the face of what many say is a lost cause, they were making a difference not just through their own actions but by inspiring others. And this brave commitment to change was one that I was curious about across gender, age, ethnicity — which is what led me to selecting subjects from different walks of life and different geographies.
In the teaser, a set of titles asks the question “What would you do to fight a battle you can never win?” What does that mean, to say the battle against hunger can never be won?
That to me is the central question of the film and what fascinates me about the three subjects of the film. It’s about coming to terms with the fact that no one single person can ever win the war on hunger and it’s a grim reality that there will likely always be someone hungry somewhere, but does that mean we should stop trying? Many people have ideas of changing the world when young, only to become more cynical when they see no end to a problem in their lifetime – but these three people pay no attention to those unfavorable realities. They realize they will never overcome hunger but that doesn’t stop them from giving their all to something they believe in.
One of the people you profile is the retired Minneapolis teacher Allan Law, who delivers sandwiches to the hungry from out of the back of his van. How did you come upon his story?
I actually read about him in a MinnPost article by Jim Walsh while I was spearheading a film festival called the Filmanthropist Project and was hoping to create a short film about him for that screening. Instead, one thing lead to another and three and a half years later we have this feature film The Starfish Throwers nearly completed.
What can people do on this upcoming Make A Difference Day to help?
There are so many things to do (big and small!) on Make A Difference Day. If you’re moved by Allan’s story, you can get a group of people together and make sandwiches for him to deliver on his rounds. It’s easy! You simply schedule a pickup on his website. Another great new way to give back creatively is through a local group called IAMKindness. Finally, it doesn’t even need to be a group activity. Making a difference can mean raking an elderly neighbor’s yard or providing a hot meal to someone in need.
Finally, what is the significance of the title The Starfish Throwers?
The Starfish Throwers references a story that has been retold in dozens of different ways but which is originally based loosely on the writings of naturalist Loren Eiseley. In the updated version we tell in the film, an old man comes upon a young girl on the beach who is throwing stranded starfish back into the sea. He asks her why she is doing this because there are too many to help all of them. He tells her she can never really make a difference. She listens but then looks down and throws another starfish to the sea. “It made a difference to that one,” she says. Moved by what she says, the old man comes back the next day with several of his friends to spend the morning throwing starfish. The central idea here is that we all have the potential to create big change from one small, simple action and that our impact may reach much further than we ever know.