“Somebody truly has to care”: Allan Law’s mission to help those in need


photo courtesy of 363days.org

“Somebody truly has to care. And my whole life, I’ve really, really believed that God put me on this earth to help the poor. That’s it. And that’s what I have to do.”

Celeste Eckstein, staff writer

Allan Law is a man of many names. He is Mr. Law to the fifth and sixth grade students he taught for 32 years in Minneapolis. He is “The Sandwich Man” or “The Token Man” to the homeless people throughout the Twin Cities metro area to whom he distributes sandwiches and bus tokens. Now, he’s gained the title of “The Blanket Man,” as Law plans to distribute 4,000 blankets to people in need this year. “Hero” is another label Law has earned, receiving recognition ranging from the Edina Hometown Hero award to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award.

Law first took a job teaching fifth grade in Minneapolis in 1967. Initially, he planned to be a social worker, but he wanted deeper involvement with students. To create a supportive and enjoyable structure for local students, he created an after-school program called Minneapolis Recreation Development (MRD). 

“The other teachers thought I was crazy, saying ‘What? You’re coming in as a first-year teacher and you’re already planning an inner-city program?’ Yep!” Law said. 

After two years of teaching in South Minneapolis, Law insisted on teaching in North Minneapolis because of the need created by its high poverty level. Law remained in North Minneapolis for 30 years, continuing his after-school program for kids who struggled at school and at home. 

“Whether it was helping with homework, rollerskating on Friday night, the Capri Theater, Valleyfair—that was my daily activity with around 20 to 25 kids,” Law said. 

MRD blossomed into a larger non-profit with three core programs: the Youth Builder Program, the Samaritans Outreach Program, and the 363 Days Food Program. YBC provides backpacks filled with school supplies to underprivileged children and hosts various activities, including tutoring and college career exploration. His second program works to distribute necessities to the homeless, providing them with referrals to agencies that can assist with various problems, and giving them short-term funding for temporary housing. The 363 Days Food Program centers around the creation and distribution of sandwiches to hungry people: around 2,300 to 2,400 a night, according to Law. He notes that in the year before the pandemic, he distributed 850,000 sandwiches. 

 To successfully hand out so many sandwiches, Law relies on volunteers. In 2019, Edina High School students made 5,000 sandwiches for Law. 

“If I didn’t have all these community organizations, churches, schools making sandwiches, how [would] I come up with almost a million sandwiches every year? I couldn’t afford it,” Law said. 

In addition to the practical benefits of community participation, having volunteers make sandwiches helps to form connections between the people making the food and the people receiving it. 

“The other night, I was with little kids and said ‘Tonight while you’re all sleeping, these sandwiches that you made are going to be eaten by someone, most of those people living outside—cold as it is. But they will eat; they’re going to get these sandwiches,’” Law said.  “And I tell [the people who receive the sandwiches]: These were made by some wonderful people in this community. They don’t even know you, but they care a lot about you.” 

Through his Samaritans Outreach Program, Law also delivers basic living necessities to people in need. 

According to Law, last year he passed out 12,000 pairs of socks, and this year he plans to distribute 4,000 blankets. “I pass out bus tokens to the people I see at night. I buy 5,000 about every month and a half. They come in bags of fifty like this,” Law said, producing a small bag of silver bus tokens from his pocket. “They’re $2 if somebody else buys them…but they give me a deal, so I buy them for $1 each. But there’s $5,000 I come up with one way or another every few weeks.”

Law’s dedication to his work expands into all the aspects of his life, from his home to his finances to his time. He keeps 17 freezers in his apartment in order to store sandwiches and his work schedule is relentless. 

“From my retirement in 1999 up until a few years ago, I was out on the streets 20 hours a day. I go out at 8:00 at night. I come in at noon the next day; I sleep an hour at night in my van,” Law said. 

Law’s practices are summed up well by the MRD motto: “Love One Another.” Through kindness and connection, Law has changed lives. “We never had a fight [in my classroom]. We had the highest academic scores around, and I wouldn’t accept any negative [behavior] from anyone. And [my students] knew that,” Law said. “The advantage that I had was being on the streets at night—you might be in my class and I might be bringing food to your house on Tuesdays and Fridays because mom’s busy working and there’s no food. So it’s almost like I’m your teacher, but I’m probably your part-time father or uncle.” 

“Now, the vast majority [of my former students] are working. And so in that sense, I’m very happy, and that’s what my life is. It’s about what you can do in your lifetime, it has nothing to do with money or anything else,” Law said.

Law isn’t afraid to stand up for others, and he speaks his mind boldly. He described a phone call with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. 

“[Frey] said, ‘Allan Law, I know you’ve been honored by presidents. It’s wonderful what you do and I know you don’t get paid. What do you think of Minneapolis?’ And that was when there were 300 tents and teepees!” Law said. “So I said I just helped three Native American ladies living in a tent in wheelchairs. Wheelchairs! Wheeling a block away to an outdoor satellite bathroom. I don’t think much of the city. ‘Oh, I’ll have to look into that,’ [Frey] said. No, you know all about that,” Law said.

For all the work he has done, Law has earned much recognition and many awards. He’s addressed the Supreme Court, been recognized by multiple presidents, and been featured in books, films, and more. However, the publicity means nothing to him—it’s merely an unintended effect of his work. 

“I’ve never called anyone ever to bring in publicity or anything else. This is my $23 flip-up phone from Walmart. Not an iPhone. I don’t do email. I don’t do text messages. Seriously, I don’t have time for all this,” Law said, holding up his small, black flip phone.

Law explains that there are no other people or organizations out on the streets at night with him. 

“That’s the most important time for people,” he said. “That’s the most critical time when they’re in the streets with no place to go.” That’s where Law comes in—bus tokens and sandwiches in hand, he provides people with a way to stay warm and full in their darkest times. 

When asked what motivates him to work so hard, Law’s answer is simple. “Somebody truly has to care. And my whole life, I’ve really, really believed that God put me on this earth to help the poor. That’s it. And that’s what I have to do.”