Edina Resident Allan Law Dedicates His Life to Helping the Homeless

The work of a longtime homeless advocate is featured in the documentary film "The Starfish Throwers."
Allan Law takes to the streets to feed the hungry.

Allan Law was snoozing in his van early one summer morning. Law works late nights and had pulled into the parking lot of an Edina church for a quick nap before heading back to work. A rap on his window woke him and he found himself staring up at a police officer. The officer checked Law’s driver’s license and asked why he was sleeping in a parking lot just a few miles from his Edina home. Law, a captivating storyteller, explained his current vocation: delivering sandwiches to the homeless and hungry in the Twin Cities. And the officer exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the sandwich man!”

The officer was familiar with Law’s story because he knew someone who was part of a church group that had helped make sandwiches for Law’s organization, Minneapolis Recreation Development Inc., which launched the 363 Days Food Program, named for Law’s sandwich deliveries, made every night of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Law spends his nights since retiring as a Minneapolis schoolteacher in 1999 handing out sandwiches to the homeless—well more than 1 million since he began. He stops at shelters. He stops under bridges. He heads into neighborhoods that most people only talk about in hushed tones. Law’s life is all about helping anyone who needs help.

It’s not surprising the police officer knew Law’s story. The “Sandwich Man” has piqued a lot of interest in Twin Cities press. Law is even a central part of an upcoming documentary film titled The Starfish Throwers, a Kickstarter-funded project by Minneapolis filmmaker Jesse Roesler about fighting hunger. The film is expected to be released in May 2014.

The irony is that Law never wanted recognition or the limelight. His life is one of the most unselfish you’ll ever encounter. “I’ve always been against publicity,” Law says. “I wanted to spend my life helping people without recognition.”

This comes from a man who didn’t want to accept a McKnight Foundation Human Service award in person because he didn’t want to leave the people he helps, even for one day. This is a man who has been recognized by three presidents and received countless awards, including the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Gold Medallion presented at the U.S. Supreme Court. Law went to Washington, D.C. to accept that award but returned without visiting the White House because he needed to get back to the people he helps in Minneapolis.

“The only other days I’ve missed delivering sandwiches were [in March 2013] when I was having surgery for prostate cancer,” Law says. Even then, he snuck out of the rehabilitation center where he was recovering to deliver sandwiches while wearing his nightgown, slippers and a turtleneck.

Law rents an apartment in Edina down the hall from his 96-year-old father. He lived in Edina as a child and moved back at his mother’s request to be near his parents as they aged. His apartment houses 17 freezers for sandwiches. No bed necessary, because Law never spends a night at home.

Law never stops helping others. He doesn’t wake up to do good, he stays awake to do good. He helps people full time and sleeps in his spare time. “Am I glad I’m working 18 hours a day? No. But when you see a need you do it,” he says. “It’s a strange life. I realized if I had accepted publicity 40 years ago we would probably have a facility someplace. But I would never be there. I’d be on the street helping people.”

Law’s work goes beyond just making sandwiches. He hands out 1,000 mittens made by volunteers. He hands out bus tokens, baby formula, blankets and money for medical co-pays. “My commitment is not to feed people,” Law says. “It’s to change lives.”

If you or your organization would like to help make sandwiches for the 363 Days Food Program, visit their website. Click the link for more information on The Starfish Throwers.