Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

April 20-26, 2006

City Beat : Philly Blunt

The Safety Net

To understand why Adam Bruckner stands across the street from the Free Library Central Branch every Monday, handing out $10 checks to people he's never met, you have to start with his high school days back in Wisconsin.

By his own admission, he was far from a saint. The stereotypical high school jock from a middle-class family. A typically invincible teen who cheated on tests and climbed the water tower. He rode athletic ability to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where his skills convinced him professional soccer was possible. He skipped graduation and ventured off for tryouts in Lafayette, La. Didn't make the team. So, he followed his dream to Pensacola, Fla. And Buffalo. And Portland, Ore. And Sacramento. And finally, after a few layovers, Philadelphia.

"I was taking buses, hitchhiking, staying in $8-a-night hotels, sleeping on teammates' couches," the 30-year-old explains. "I guess I was trying to get back to that place when you're a 12-year-old who just loves playing the game. But I'm not sure you can ever get that back."

Chasing glory days is a tricky endeavor. Falling short makes the cold, hard world even colder and harder. It makes people believe their best days are behind them. But not Bruckner. Instead, he found a future he could be proud of. He found his reason for existence.

If you're the type of person who turns and runs anytime someone talks about how life's been oh-so-grand since they accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal savior, turn and run. And if you're the type of person who wonders, with a tinge of insecurity, whether you've been doing enough for your fellow man, prepare to feel like an utterly selfish failure.

Bruckner, now an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Kixx professional indoor soccer team, says he felt empty. Couldn't put his finger on it. Something was "stirring inside him." Challenged about his faith by someone he encountered, he tried the whole, "If you're there, God, show me a sign" schtick. Like having Him turn on a light on command. When that didn't pan out, he opened the Bible. Actually read it, though he'd long been intimidated by its weight. As a kid, he'd pray to win the next big game. By the time he got done with this Biblical exercise, Bruckner finally got it. That religion—faith—was about doing simple things. Good things. Like being nice to people.

This is the story he's explaining at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission near Sixth and Green streets, after we unload the trunk of his beat-up Mercury Sable loaner. "I just want people to know what Jesus said," he explains. "I just want to share."

Today, sharing takes the form of nine 6-pound cans of corn, two 4-pound cans of tuna and four 24-pound boxes of jumbo chicken franks. It's the food he, with some friends, will spend the day after Easter preparing so the hundreds of homeless people who've been sent over to 19th Street and the Parkway can eat. Just like they can every Monday, because a soccer player met so many troubled homeless folks while roughing it from Buffalo to Sacramento.

After blessing the kitchen with his regular prayer, he dons an apron and gets the silver ovens going. But in a few hours, Bruckner—sporting a black "The Dump" cap, green American Eagle cargo shorts, a T-shirt and a pair of Nikes—won't be in charge of doling out the food. He'll be holding a clipboard with three checkbooks on it.

A line of about 100 homeless folks waiting for 15 seconds of his time will stretch from Vine Street to Logan Square. Here, Bruckner fulfills his mission.

Turns out the city, for all the pomp and circumstance of Mayor Street's 10-year plan to end homelessness, doesn't realize that without $10, they can't get a PennDOT non-driver's ID. And without ID, they can't get a job. And without a job, they can't get off the streets.

But Bruckner does. He's set up shop as a one-man charity. Opens his savings account wide, $10 at a time. (On a meager salary, he says he's "literally spent tens of thousands of dollars on plastic and paper ID.") He listens to people, hears what they need and reacts; this, even though some degenerates put their Verizon bills and DIRECTV accounts on his tab. (No time to check everybody out, even after that.)

Today, he hits check number 5612 around 4 p.m. "I can't order checks over the computer anymore," he explains. "They can't believe I need another book of checks when I just ordered one a couple weeks ago."

I could go on for days about what a blessing it is to have a saint like Bruckner in our city, how we could all learn something from his generosity. But I'm not preachy. Instead, any Monday, go watch Bruckner in action. Then, ask yourself two questions:

Why is he being forced to do the work that homeless agencies get federal and state money to do?

And, before he drives himself into bankruptcy, how can you help?

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