Al beck does magic with aluminum. He can take two pounds of empty cans and turn them into a meal for a hungry homeless man.

In less than three years, Beck has completed this trick over 86,000 times.

He is “The Can Can Man,” a former accountant, restaurant owner, taxi driver, vagrant and former street dweller, who has finally discovered his true calling. In a modern tale of fish and loaves, Beck put deep faith in God to work and found a unique way to feed the poor.

Beck collects cans, glass and plastic from nearly 500 households and 90 businesses with his Can Can Van. Selling this waste to recycling centers, he uses the funds to buy food to feed the needy on Sundays and holidays.

“We’re really recycling lives,” says Beck, who in 1989 started his special assignment from his downtown restaurant on W. 11th. When the building was purchased earlier this year by the developers, Beck looked for

for several months and found an abused but recoverable site at 115 S. Cincinnati.

From there, Beck estimates he will feed 1,000 people on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and provide clothes and toys for the people or families who walk through his door.

A true “fisher of men”, Beck has more than once fulfilled the American dream, only to abandon it in search of something indefinable. “I have always been a workaholic, mowing construction sites, selling fruit, selling newspapers, but moving from one job to another. I would go as high as I could in a job and then lose interest, ”says Beck, a graduate of Central High School in Tulsa.

He learned the importance of hard work from his mother, who raised three children doing janitorial jobs – sometimes for as little as 50 cents an hour. She recycled soda bottles for extras like a trip to the movies.

With an accounting degree from a business school, Beck previously worked as an accountant for a large corporation and once as a convenience store for a fast food chain.

“It all looked like a dead end,” he says. Eventually, he left the mainstream, living on the streets or “under the shrubs and trees,” offering to work in restaurants for meals or waiting outside the employment office for daily job opportunities.

“Even when I had a job and all the important things, money in the bank, I didn’t feel safe …” he said, and sometimes moved to a dingy hotel to regain his appreciation of what he had.

Tired of street life, in 1970 he entered a taxi office in search of a job. Owner said he would hire

him if he had his hair cut and gave Beck $ 5.

“I went to barber college where they only charged me $ 3,” he says with a smile, using the rest for a meal. The next day, the owner of the taxi company loaned him an additional $ 35 to get his license. Beck stayed for 12 years, first living in his cab and using his tips to pay for the vehicle, then another, which

he hired to the second driver.

One day he met a friend who was opening a downtown donut store. Beck advised the man to consider a more varied menu to appeal to office workers and was offered a partnership, which Beck

financed by the sale of its two taxis.

Once they were up and running, a missionary from a nearby chapel asked if Beck would consider donating coffee, and yes, donuts to his transient ward.

Beck agreed but said, “As long as I give up my day off, why not have a full meal?” Sharing the costs with the missionary first, then financing on his own. One week, Beck had no extra money for this Sunday

meal. Then one customer came by with donated food, then another, and in the weeks to come others.

Eventually, however, Beck’s desire to help the down and out hurt his regular business to the point of shutting down. In December 1989, when the gas and water were about to be cut off, Beck one evening visited a client who encouraged him to attend the Kenneth Hagin Camp meeting. Beck refused, but two nights later he felt guilty and went with her.

“A lady came up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about your finances. All your needs will be taken care of

tonight, ”he recalls. As he sat down, an elderly man next to him said much the same.

Slightly scared, Beck, who was not attending church, began to listen to the service, “and when everyone was screaming and praising, I could feel the electricity. I didn’t even notice, but I praised God too, ”he said.

remember. When he returned to his restaurant, the cook told him the place was packed

customers all evening.

“I had enough to pay the bills and salaries and feed people the following week. I knew straight away that it was a vocation and that I was supposed to feed the poor, ”he says with conviction.

Looking for a way to fund his project, Beck saw a story in a Dallas newspaper about a group that was using recycling to help the poor. He liked the idea and started talking to businesses and individuals. Participation was sincere, but uneven.

“That’s when I designed the Can-Can Man,” and the tagline “Al is short for aluminum and aluminum feeds friends,” he says.

Now Beck has a loyal following of collectors, including the entire Maple Ridge addition. Others are saving up all year to donate to its annual billboard poster campaign, to collect empty and full cans, which are donated to aid agencies in the area.

Ironically, the man who fed thousands of people said until recently that he always hated cooking. As a teenager, he worked for Harvard Lanes Bowling Alley and for the owner of his restaurant. When the man’s wife died, 13-year-old Beck was put in charge of the establishment, staff planning, payroll and sometimes the kitchen.

“When the waitresses came for orders, I couldn’t even reach the window,” he says. “They were teasing me, ‘Is the dwarf cooking tonight?'”

Later, whenever he was unemployed, Beck could still find work as a cook.

Her real love was dancing. In the mid-1950s, Beck tried his hand as a replacement when Elvis Presley appeared in Tulsa.

“I didn’t make it, but I got a ticket,” says Beck, who sports an Elvis hairstyle.

Instead, he took his musical ability and a dance partner and became a drawing card for acts at local ballrooms. “The bands would pay me $ 5 to dance to the stage. When the crowd followed us, we would disappear, ”he says. He even appeared for several weeks in the “Top 10 Dance Party”, a localized version of American Bandstand.

Today, Beck’s goals are very different. And his lifestyle as limited as those he serves. Without an income, Beck lives in subsidized housing, paying his rent by cleaning up the land. He admits he’s so busy retraining that he doesn’t have time for the job – and he’s considering a Jan.9 eviction with nowhere to go.

But he’s not worried about it, he says. Instead, he dreams of making his new restaurant a place of “food, friendship and fellowship,” a place for the poor and the powerful.

“I’ll provide the same food whether they can pay for it or not,” says Beck, who thinks that just finding his new location was a sign “that God has other plans for me. He’s not done with me. It’s like a promotion.

And the best job he’s ever had.