It is noon on a frigid December Sunday. The sun is nearly blinding and the wind blows fiercely across the parking lot at Northwood Shopping Center in Royal Oak. In the corner of that parking lot at 13 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue stand two 55-foot semi-trailers and a single recreational vehicle. The pungent smell of fresh garlic permeates the air. Bob Bauer is making chili.
Bauer, 49, has once again made this parking lot and RV his home for a few weeks during his annual “Marathon for Meals” food drive. For the 18th year, Bauer is living in the chilly RV to collect nonperishable food and monetary donations for local food banks. Over the years, he guesses he’s collected about 3 million pounds of food, and somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.
Inside the RV, Bauer sits at the table, chopping garlic on a paper plate with a hunting knife. A large pot sits on the stove.
“Living well is the best revenge,” he says with a grin.
During the food drive, Bauer is here day and night, this year from the day after Thanksgiving until Dec. 20. The semi-trailers are blanketed with signs from WKRK-FM 97.1, where Bauer hosts a radio show on hunting and fishing each Saturday from 6 a.m.-noon. They serve as storage space for the many tons of food brought in. Everything Bauer collects goes to one of four charities: the Hunger Action Coalition of Michigan, Gleaners Community Food Bank, the Food Bank of Oakland County and the Salvation Army in Mt. Clemens. Cassandra Scott, executive director of the Hunger Action Coalition, says, “His donations are quite significant and come at a time when the need is greatest.”
Before I even have a chance to ask, Bauer answers my first question: Why does he do this each year?
“This is my Christmas,” he says.
Bauer explains that he’s merely giving people an opportunity to feel good about themselves. Too many think they need to pull someone out of a burning building or save a life to make a difference.
“Everybody wants to do something,” he says.
A man knocks on the door of the RV, hands over a box of food and looks up at Bauer. “Thank you,” he says before hurrying back to his car.
Bauer is perplexed. So many of the people who stop by to donate food thank him. And he doesn’t understand why.
“What are you thanking me for?” he asks.
It’s cold inside the RV. The thermostat is optimistically set to 75 degrees but my feet are icy inside my shoes after only an hour. Bauer says the temperature inside drops to the low 40s at night, which is why he sleeps in two layers of fleece beneath a down comforter.
The RV has running water, which was frozen for the first few days of his vigil this year. There is a small refrigerator, a booth and table, a couch and chair. The sleeping quarters are in the back, hidden by an accordion door, and are just large enough to hold a bed.
He leaves only to go to the studio to do his show on Saturday. He does updates several times a day from the RV to promote his campaign.
As indicated by the venison, sausage, and smoked pork chili Bauer is making, his own menu is varied and ample. Every year, an army of “little old ladies” knock on the door of Bauer’s RV to bring everything from homemade matzo-ball soup to fresh apple pie.
Bauer is nonchalant about his annual food drive. He makes no claims about sincerity or selflessness. Yet he clearly wants to help people, whether it is the hungry he helps to feed or the donors who feel they’ve made a difference.
“I do it for me,” he says. “It’s cool, man.”
Bob Bauer’s Marathon for Meals continues through Dec. 20. Donations of money and nonperishable food are welcome, especially baby food, powdered baby formula and Cream of Wheat.Rachel McIntyre is an editorial intern at Metro Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org