Once a month, in the small triangle of West Oakland’s Fitzgerald Park, a white tent appears with folding tables, trays of hot food, and a phalanx of volunteers to dish it out.
Amidst the chaotic hubbub of food service, is a calm 15 year old boy who takes it all in beneath the hood of a black sweatshirt.
“Pay it forward,” is the mantra Michael Carraway will recite whenever asked about the monthly feeding, known as Mikey’s Meals.
On Thanksgiving Day, Carraway, his family and a couple dozen volunteers gathered in the park for the fourth year in a row.
The down-and-out from the neighborhood lined up for a hot meal of turkey, green beans and other Thanksgiving staples.
“It all started when my mom asked me what I wanted to do, to 'pay it forward,'” remembered Carraway.
“I asked her what’s ‘pay it forward’ mean? And she said to give something to someone and not expect anything in return.”
Four years ago, Carraway received such a gift.
As his fragile life hinged on finding a new liver, a motorcycle accident in Southern California claimed the life of 18 year old Johnny Hernandez.
Carraway became the recipient of Hernandez’ liver.
“He passed away October 31 -- on Halloween,” said Carraway. “I got my transplant the next day, so that was a blessing.”
Shaheda Wright told her son he needed to find a way to share the blessing he’d been given – to “pay it forward.”
Carraway told her he wanted to feed the homeless. In the years since the family first gathered in the park to dish out simple homemade meals, they’ve seen a change in the need. “At first in 2008 we were only feeding homeless people,” said Wright.
“Now we’re feeding people that live in houses down the street and across the street. It’s definitely changing.”
At the same time, Wright has seen her son change. She said at first, he was merely the visionary behind the meals, not necessarily the one getting his hands dirty.
Now Carraway helps organize the monthly feeds, making deliveries, and lining-up volunteers.
“He does a lot more than he used to because he’s more involved,” Wright said. “He actually told me this is now his hobby. “
Despite rubbing shoulders with the likes of rapper 50 Cent, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and coach Bill Russell, Carraway still carries himself like a typical high school sophomore.
He said he’s proud of the fact the monthly gatherings have signed-up around 1,000 organ donors, with an information table bearing Hernandez’ picture.
Carraway said he’s thankful for life, his family and friends, and most of all the moment when the last plate of food finds a needy soul.
“It feels like I accomplished something today,” said Carraway. “And at the end of the day I feel good.”