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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Zephyrhills council member to go on hunger strike for needy
He will consume mainly water to raise funds and awareness.
By HELEN TRAVIS, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007
ZEPHYRHILLS - While those around him ate biscuits and gravy and mashed potatoes and green beans, Luis Lopez thought of the little girl.
He met her and her father Sunday at a rest stop on Interstate 95 in Central Florida. Lopez bought them a meal and listened to their story. The little girl's name was Maria and her mother was dead. Her father was out of work. They were homeless and Maria's face was sunken from lack of food.
"That was my trigger," Lopez, 45, said.
Lopez, a Zephyrhills City Council member, decided Monday to go on a 30-day hunger strike to raise awareness, and maybe some money, to help the hungry in his community. He especially wants to help those who are vulnerable: the elderly, disabled veterans, and kids like Maria.
"This is for her and all those like her," he said.
A doctor will oversee Lopez's condition during his fast. He'll take vitamins, minerals, and drink plenty of water. He'll down a few ounces of beef broth, but only if the doctor orders.
In addition to his gig as a City Council member, Lopez counsels boys at a San Antonio, Fla., residential treatment center for troubled teens. The boys teased him about the delicious biscuits and gravy breakfast he missed, but they also said they would donate $1 for every day of Lopez's fast.
He plans to give all their money, and any other funds he raises, to a Zephyrhills food kitchen and Meals on Wheels program.
Last year, Lopez had another radical plan to raise awareness about those less fortunate.
One November morning he left his home wearing old New Balance sneakers, ripped jeans and a fleece jacket.
For two days, he walked and hitched rides to a Tampa homeless shelter. Along the way he sprained his ankle, got chased by teenagers and slept in the grass,
"My whole goal was to learn about the trials and tribulations of being homeless," he said.
He brought his ID and a cell phone for emergencies. His wife got a phone call along the way.
"Honey, I'm going to be gone for a few days," he said he told her.
During his homeless trial, Lopez found a thin aquamarine comforter in a trash pile. It kept him warm during his two nights on the street. Sunday, he gave it to Maria and her father, along with some extra cash.
During dinner, as her father and Lopez talked, she guarded her roast beef sandwich and fries as if she was afraid someone would take it from her. She didn't speak or smile.
After the meal and after he gave her father the blanket, Lopez said she finally met his gaze.
"She wanted to say thank you," he said. "Her eyes said it all to me."
This year, Lopez will miss out on his family's Christmas dinner. He's half Greek and half Spanish and he wonders how his mother will react to the news of his strike. He weighs 240 pounds, and she always says he looks hungry.
Lopez said some people have called his homeless field trip and this hunger strike publicity stunts to get re-elected to the Zephyrhills City Council in April.
This is not true, he said.
"I have a degree in business. I can think of a thousand better ways for me to get my name out there than going homeless or starving myself."