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Michelle Obama serves food to D.C. poor and homeless, but...

First Lady Michelle Obama serves food to homeless people at Miriam's Kitchen in Washington DC 3-5-09

First Lady Michelle Obama showed up Thursday as a surprise and welcome volunteer at Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen for homeless poor people not far from the White House.

She brought with her some food donated by White House staff.

The first lady served up mushroom risotto and broccoli to a long line of homeless men and women during part of herFirst Lady Michelle Obama volunteers as a food server at Miriam's Kitchen a soup kitchen for poor homeless in Washington DC 3-5-09 lunch hour and in these photos poses for a picture by one homeless diner obviously excited to be in the first lady's presence.

Obama said she hoped her service would cause other Americans to volunteer to help the less fortunate in their own communities.

And, of course, such images of need might also help build support for her husband's economic and healthcare reform agenda, although a Miriam's spokeswoman said their average "guest" has been homeless since about the time Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

Miriam's is a privately funded soup kitchen about seven blocks from the White House that has 1,200 volunteers and serves about 300, mainly men, each morning. Our colleague Mark Silva has more on the volunteer work in the Swamp here.

Both of these news photos were widely distributed across the country and even around the world.

It doesn't detract from the first lady's generous gesture or the real needs she seeks to highlight to ask two bothersome journalistic questions about these news photos:

If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone?

And if he is homeless, where do they send the cellphone bills?

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Associated Press (top); Getty Images (bottom).

 
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It is possible to buy pre-paid cards - and mobiles are crucial for people who are actively looking for work... if he is homeless, where else could a potential employer call?

Many of the homeless and poor have cheap, pay as you go cell phones, because having a land line is impossible. AND you can't get a job if you don't have a phone number for an employer to call you on.
So, some how you get a cell phone.
By the way, if you donate an old cell phone to charity, giving them out to the homeless and poor with pre-paid time is one of the things that happens to them.
Remember, if you don't have a Phone, You Can't get a job. And thus is part of the vicious circle that keeps them homeless.

I can't believe you write for a paper and can't figure this one out. Most people no longer have home lines and if they are homeless...

Most of the nation's poor pay for mintues. When the minutes run out, they then, when they can afford it, go and pay for more minutes.

My concern is less about the First Lady's charity, than about your lack of charity. Is the potential sale of the LA Times' Headquarters by the Out of town owner to pay his overextension got you on edge? Is the LA Times "Righting" itself with attacks that pose as journalism? I wonder.

Good Grief.

I am a mother of three and haven't had a cell phone for years. I should be the poster child of someone who could use one, but it's TOO EXPENSIVE for us. So we forego it. We have cable internet, but no television. We get our entertainment from the library.

How's that wagyu beef and red wine staying down, Obama? Oh, it's digested already? Too bad. $100 could have fed my family for a week. I guess I'll have to look in the sewer for the remains. I haven't had steak in years . . . $5 chuck roast fed our whole family last night.

How about "spreading some wealth" to the poor *working* class shmucks who can't afford cell phones? How about standing on the White House Lawn and yelling "CORPORATE TAX CUT!" "CAPITAL GAINS TAX CUT!" Our pitiful employee-sponsored 401K would thank you.

Dear God, what are you people doing to us?

I believe a large percentage of low income and homeless would use a prepaid phone. My cell phone runs me $15 for 3 months with Virgin Mobile. Hardly an amount that would go very far in getting someone off the street. Also, having a phone number is pretty much a prerequisite for gaining employment. That these points aren't even considered by the author leads me to conclude that this is a simple "hit" piece written just so he could raise his "questions." Without a doubt he'll be the darling of the right wing for the afternoon.

I'm actually inclined to think this paper is wasting it's money on the author, and could improve the site and cut costs at the same time by letting him go.

Better yet....where does he charge his phone when the battery is dead?

No, it doesn't detract from the first lady's generous gesture or the real needs she seeks to highlight to ask "two bothersome journalistic questions...."

It just calls into question your journalistic credibility and integrity that you couldn't bother to actually ask the questions before assuming an answer and representing it as the truth.

How do you know he's homeless? You've never heard of pre-paid cell phones? And have you tried to purchase a cell phone lately without a camera? Not as simple as you would think.

This is a pathetic display, and I'm really embarassed for your organization.

You know, if this kind of writing and thinking had actually seen print in the LA Times over these many years, I might have kept on reading the paper. I guess it's too late now that the paper is all but out of business. Oh well.

Please,oh please stop with the echoing of shrill conservative tropes about the undeserving poor!!! Are you so ignorant as to be unaware of the disposable, pay as you go cell phone?? They are dirt cheap and can be purchased at your local 7-11 for 15 dollars!! Would you rather have a person who is down on their luck to have zero means of communication?? Will that help them get back on their feet? You stupid ignorant idiot!

The cell phone companies got rid of pre-paid plans?

Also, how exactly do you get a phone call for a job interview if you don't have a phone?

Sheesh, you guys never heard of pay-as-you-go plans? Buy your minutes first, then when they run out, No More Talky!

No bill needed since the service shuts off when you can't pay. You have to go to the phone store and refill your minutes. That doesn't mean the camera and non-network features won't still work.

Talk about Elite.

Come on, guys. Haven't you heard of prepaid cell phones? You can buy one for $50 bucks or so, though camera phones are more likely to cost $100. Then you can buy extra minutes $10 or $20 at a time. There's no need for a contract or a credit card. It's quite likely that many homeless people have scraped together enough to afford such a phone, and nobody should begrudge it. Owning a phone can help them get off the streets and find a job, yes?

"If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone?

And if he is homeless, where do they send the cellphone bills?"

Can Mr. Malcom BE any more ignorant, or hateful?

He knows that the phone is not borrowed from a friend or relative...how?

He doesn't realize that in the event that he owns the phone that he may have had a friend add a line to the friend's service, and he needs the phone to try to obtain a job, and can't afford both the phone and food, which would answer both of his hateful, moronic questions?

Let them eat bandwidth, Mr. Malcom. Let them eat bandwitdh.

Apparently the author is too far removed from the "lower classes" to even know about Tracfones. These are cheap, you buy time as you want, there IS no monthly bill.
What an elitist cheap shot.

Andrew, you are more than a bit out of touch. Yes, lots of poor people have cell phones. Especially homeless folks, since there is no other way for people to reach them. News flash: Just like you, homeless people have families and doctors and sometimes even jobs, and they need to be able to be contacted. You can get an entry level phone for $10, or often folks receive fancier used phones that someone better off (like maybe a newspaper reporter with an unlimited plan) has donated to a charity or shelter when they upgraded. Since cell phone companies do credit checks, poor folks generally can't get monthly plans like yours. There are no monthly bills, even if you are not homeless. Instead, you prepay for a given number of minutes and (unlike a newspaper reporter with an unlimited plan) you actually need to count your minutes to make sure you don't run out (which you often do).

You really are a reporter, right? Why did you not go out and learn something about the situation before taking a random potshot based on a wire photo?

I have been doing a segment on my blog called One Man, Many Taxes, 365 Days. In my blog I track every penny of tax I pay for 2009, and I itemize it. I learned one of the taxes in my phone bills go to pay for this gentleman's phone. Look at your cell phone bill next time and you will discover the truth. We are told America is so rotten, yet few do without--even when it comes to cell phones.

maybe he's not homeless. maybe he's not poor. maybe he's a worker or volunteer. maybe he just wanted to take a picture.

That is a Blackberry Pearl. Not cheap, and not on any prepaid plan. Maybe they got it from Oprah.

Stacey | March 06, 2009 at 10:41 AM : "We are all our brother's keepers."

Or soon will be.

Whether or not the phone is prepaid or not isn't the issue. What some of you seem to have forgotten is that a phone is a luxury not a necessity. If you can't afford to eat don't have a luxury(phone).

Maybe some rich conservative threw away one of their cell phones to get the latest model. Or (perhaps) donated it to the homeless shelter or the Salvation Army or Goodwill. My recollection is that cell phones with photo capability don't require an expensive, ongoing service contract to take pictures, but perhaps I should check that fact from inside a gated community...

Wow, Andrew Malcolm. Congrats on your fab success as you clearly have no idea how necessary a cell phone is these days even for the rabble.

I'm a 53 year old now-unemployed manager in the print industry. In my last job, all the entry level employees - and we purposely hired poor folk to try to help them get ahead and learn a trade while lowering our employee costs - had pre-paid cell phones. I'm pretty sure all the phones came with cameras. I know the last time my brother bought a phone, Verizon only offered one that didn't have a camera.

This reporter is neither conservative nor old - just clueless and catty.

"It doesn't detract from the first lady's generous gesture or the real needs she seeks to highlight to ask two bothersome journalistic questions about these news photos:"

Mr. Malcolm, why are you so sure of the truth of this statement?

All of the comments defending this "homeless person" are simply more liberal drivel. It is clearly poor financial judgment that justifies buying a cellphone (prepaid or otherwise) before they can provide rent or food.

But oh, I used the word "judgment", a word that socialists and liberals despise since everyone is a victim of the "rich". If the homeless man's intentions only are good, he should be rewarded. The results of his behavior (failure to budget) should never be reviewed.

I am a proud conservative and have no obligation to give anything to the collective, period.

How do you know that "Freeloader" was even trying to look for a Job?

Just another one of Obama's Mooching Voters !

.

I live in Washington, DC. I have volunteered at Miriam's Kitchen.

Miriam's is right next to George Washington University. Many GW students volunteer at Miriam's. Many students would also come to Miriam's to meet Michelle Obama if heard that she was going to be there.

It certainly seems possible to me that the person taking the photo is a worker, volunteer , or student.

So, it's a pay as you go plan eh?
Where do you charge the phone batteries when you are homeless?

HOW MANY PREPAID CELLPHONES HAVE CAMERAS TO TAKE PHOTOS?!!!????

Since when are Camera phones, throw aways?

here's an idea i'd love to send to the first lady.

*STOP SERVING MEALS TO THE OBESE!*

if you want to help someone homeless michelle, set aside some of your millions and provide him a home.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE PHOTOS? HOW DOES HE GET THEM OFF THE PREPAID PHONE?

Guys, cut Malcolm some slack. He's just honoring the age-old journalistic principle "afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable."

That's right you left wingers! Keep bringing up the past! Let's compare what Obama is doing NOW to what Reagan did in the PAST! Remember why MoveOn.org was founded? Anyone? Let me tell you, MoveOn.org was founded, by the left, in an attempt to get the right to forget about Bill Clinton and MOVE ON. Well, as usual, you all are incapable of practicing what you preach.

Who cares if Michelle is hamming it up in front of the cameras (be they the cameras of the press or the cameras of the homeless)? All I can remember from the last eight years is how Bush is ruining the economy and Bush is putting our children into debt for a long time. Ted Kennedy told us that this was the worst economy in recorded history! Look at the deficit now! Every single company that Obama has given money too has shown no improvement whatsoever!

Leave the homeless alone and wake up! Take a look at those homeless people with their cellphones and realize that very, very soon if Obama policies "work" the way these socialists want them to, we're ALL going to be taking pictures of "Lady Michelle" serving us up leftovers from the White House staff kitchen! You bumbling fools.

I don't see a problem here.

Aren't there organizatiosn that take people's old cell phones and provide them to people in need? My understanding is that, even without a contract or even pay-as-you go, the cell phone can still be used to dial 911.

And, if the cell phone is also a camera, pictures can still be taken and stored on the cell phone, right?

So, what's the problem?

Why isn't the question how does a homeless person charge the cellphone .

Only in the evil, repressive, racist, homophobic, no access to health care U.S. do the poor have cell phones. I know in other third world countries people are eating out of trash bins, have no homes and never even seen a cell phone, but only here in the U.S. are people really really poor, hey he will tell you he is poor just call him.

Mr. Malcolm,

You are the reason I cancelled my subscription to the times. I kid not. Par for the course.

human right under Article 19
"I have been poor my hole life, Now the midclass & rich can see how the poor & homeless live, You walk down the side walk thinking you're a lot better than the poor are & homeless. You are saying to yourself that will not happen to me.I have a good job, nice home, People are one pay check from being homeless. I can't go to church i have been turn away from churchs, Read the outlaw preyer on google.com by Johnny Paycheck its a true story in a song it happened in Ft Worth Tx, You midclass & rich have turned your back on us for years, Now you can see how it feels. Go live in the woods tell the city council tells the police go out & run you out of town like it happen to a lot of us poor & homeless.The city council is the ones hire the police to do their dirty work,"

I dont like all the people bashing the author of this article. Yes, it is possible that this man does have an apartment, and he may just be in need of a meal or two. However, these are two very good questions. A cellphone is not a right. A cellphone is a luxury. If you cannot afford food and housing (which this soup kitchen is for poor, homeless people) then you should not be spending money on cell phones, no matter how cheap the prepaid piece is. It is each of our responsibilities to care for ourselves and our families first. A man with a cellphone in a soup kitchen line seems to me just out for a free meal and has no class, character, or credibility. Its like this, if you have spinners and hydrolics, fancy cellphones and clothes but no insurance, you get no insurance. You made your choice on where to spend your money. You must live with what you decided.

"PS: How can she stand there and smile while wearing a $30k ring?"

Becuase it's not 30k. If you ever bothered to do even cursory research on that scanadlous piece of jewelery on the hand of the wife of The Evil Socialist Overlord, you would know that the ring story is bogus, yet still accepted as fact to the rubes.
You, being case in point.

human right under Article 19
"I have been poor my hole life, Now the midclass & rich can see how the poor & homeless live, You walk down the side walk thinking you're a lot better than the poor are & homeless. You are saying to yourself that will not happen to me.I have a good job, nice home, People are one pay check from being homeless. I can't go to church i have been turn away from churchs, Read the outlaw preyer on google.com by Johnny Paycheck its a true story in a song it happened in Ft Worth Tx, You midclass & rich have turned your back on us for years, Now you can see how it feels. Go live in the woods tell the city council tells the police go out & run you out of town like it happen to a lot of us poor & homeless.The city council is the ones hire the police to do their dirty work,"

Mr. and Mrs. O gave very very little to charity - their taxes reflect their gross uncaring - i don't care how many times one of them pops up in a place like this for a photo op - take some into your home - help raise them or go by every single day and take care of them - something a lot of us with little income do on a daily basis - but there are no cameras to record our efforts - but God does have a camera and He knows what lurks in the heart of us alll.

I have personally given 3 cell phones to homeless shelters when I've upgraded my phone. One of them is a Palm Treo, which I'm sure will make anyone seeing it question someone's priorities. Sad, but true.

wow. Judging the poor. THEY AREN"T POOR ENOUGH FOR OUR HELP?

stop. You need a phone to get a job. Also, there are pre-paid phones. He also could have worked there. He could have just strolled by and saw that the first lady was inside and he ducked in to get a photo.

come on. This is a non story. Pretty sad when you pick on the poor and people working in soup kitchens.

This hate is why the conservative movement is dead. I was a big supporter (I can't stand unions, for example) but this is just dare I say un-christian.

Gee. I wonder if they're given pre-paid phone cards for mobile phones so they can apply for jobs.

NAH!

Why would we want to help them get back on their feet.

Ignorant jackass. Try some journalistic research instead of spewing uneducated opinions. Leave that stuff to teenagers and college students.

How can people not see something incongruous about a homeless guy waiting on line at a soup kitchen taking a picture with his cell phone?

To be fair to the homeless guy, he probably isn't even paying for the phone. There are government programs out there that will provide low-income individuals with cell phones.

My question as a taxpayer then would be: Have cell phones that don't take pictures gone the way of the rotary dial and typewriters?

Wow....just wow. I used to feel sorry for media folks with all the downsizing, but perhaps journalists could use a little real-life experience away from their comfortable middle-class existence. "Where do they send the cellphone bills?" Ugh.

Jesus, Malcolm, how do you look at yourself in the mirror every day?

Crikey, Malcolm. What would you do if you had to live on the street or out of a shelter while looking for work?

Can I have your job? I'm unemployed now and close to homelessness. At least I wouldn't ask such ignorant questions.

 
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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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