The van lurches through the dark, narrow streets of Philadelphia, past familiar landmarks now shrouded with thick mist from steam vents and sidewalk grates. Ten people huddle inside, warmed by foil tubs of chicken casserole, pork and beans, and an industrial-size coffee pot.

These Christians from the suburbs are venturing downtown to feed those in need: homeless friends of Trevor Ferrell, the Philadelphia teenager whose campaign to help the indigent has received national attention.

The campaign began on a Friday night in December 1983, when 11-year-old Trevor saw a TV news report on the inner city. He could not believe people lived on the streets so close to his suburban home. Frank and Janet Ferrell reluctantly agreed to broaden their son’s sheltered horizons—and their own. The three headed downtown in the family station wagon, Trevor clutching a favorite yellow blanket.

A block past city hall, a thin man lay crumpled on a sidewalk grate. While his parents watched uncertainly, Trevor approached him. “Sir,” he said with dignity, “here’s a blanket for you.” The man woke and stared at Trevor. “Thank you,” he said softly. “God bless you.” Frank didn’t realize it, but that brief confrontation was to make his son a celebrity and alter the Ferrell family’s lives forever. They returned downtown night after night, emptying their home of extra blankets, old clothing, and dozens of peanut butter sandwiches. Someone donated a van; volunteers charted nightly distribution routes. To the Ferrells’ surprise, “Trevor’s Campaign” somehow began.

Trevor found himself explaining first to local media what the Ferrells were doing, then to others: Pat Robertson, Merv Griffin, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan. He also told them why: “It’s Jesus inside ...

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