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Tempe artist makes art from cans he uses to feed the homeless

(KTAR News Photo/Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX — Several empty vegetable and soup cans are stacked on top of each other, and on one end is the face of a shark made out of scrap metal.

It’s one of the quaint sculptures Alexi De Villiers, a Tempe resident, makes using recycled materials and empty food cans he gets after feeding the homeless. He also makes robots, dogs, cats, lamps and piggy banks.

“Every Saturday morning, going on I think it’ll be about 10 years now, I cook 100 to 125 hot square meals and I take it down to a shelter for elderly homeless,” Devilliers said.

He cooks everything from meatloaf to roasted pork. Last week, he served country gravy with ham, cubed potatoes and corn chowder. Every meal also includes a dessert and a drink that his friends help provide.

He buys the food using a portion of the money he makes from selling his art pieces in galleries, street fairs and online. The rest of the money goes to supporting his family. He and his wife have a 5-year-old son.

De Villiers said he never imagined he’d be doing this. He worked in maintenance for years, and the only art background he has comes from his high school shop class and his sixth grade art class.

But it became his calling after seeing how many homeless people are in need of a meal. It also felt natural having grown up with Cuban immigrant parents who taught him to share what he had with others.

In 2009, he and his wife began packing meals and taking them to homeless people at a park near their house in Tempe.

The first week, they started out with 30 meals. They doubled that by the following week. They also started passing meals along Van Buren Street.

One day, they had several meals left over, so they went to downtown Phoenix where they came across a group of elderly homeless people gathered outside Justa Center, a day resource center for homeless people 55 years and older.

“I passed out whatever meals I had left and then someone opened the door and said, ‘Hey, there’s food out here,’” De Villiers said. “There were 80 more elderly people inside the shelter that didn’t get anything to eat that day.”

The following weekend, they made 100 meals and took them straight to Justa Center.

“That’s where it all just came from,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, look I’ll be here every week for you. All you have to do is just eat it. And 50,000 something meals later I’m still at it.”

And he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

To find out more about De Villiers and his artwork, visit his website.

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