LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former Chelsea defender Mario Melchiot spent five years plying his trade a stone’s throw from London’s fashionable King’s Road but it was a brief visit to Skid Row that completely changed his outlook on life.
The ex-Dutch international, who now works as a soccer analyst for Fox Sports, was invited by the Arise and Walk charity to take a 20-minute drive from his home to lift the spirits of the homeless of Los Angeles.
“This past Sunday morning, I woke up with one place and one destination on my mind -- downtown Los Angeles,” said Melchiot.
”I wasn’t headed to the Staples Center to check out the Lakers or the Clippers. I was on a different mission, a mission that would land me in a place that many refer to as one of America’s most depressed streets, Skid Row.
“I’ve seen a lot of downtrodden places before but this place blew my mind and broke my heart,” Melchiot told Reuters.
The 39-year-old Dutchman, who won 22 caps for his country, said he would never forget his short time on Skid Row.
“The impact that this visit left on me was incredible,” added Melchiot, who made 165 appearances for London club Chelsea between 1999 and 2004.
”I know that every morning I will eat a sandwich or anything else of my choosing. They don‘t.
“Every day these people are in survival mode, right here in Los Angeles. It reminded me of a third world. This was truly a humbling experience.”
Melchiot, who also had spells at Ajax Amsterdam, Stade Rennes, Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic before quitting as a player in 2011, said his visit to Skid Row made him realise he had to do more in future for those less fortunate than himself.
”Seeing people ... in such a state of poverty was a true eye opener,“ he explained. ”There are tents that line the street as far as the eyes can see, this is why its nickname is ‘tent city’.
”As we were handing out blankets and food to the homeless, an overwhelming sense of gratitude filled my heart. We take so much for granted when we’ve reached a certain level of success.
“It is so important to give back. It’s the little things that make all the difference in the world,” said Melchiot.
“We are all dealt a different hand of cards in life and I want to play mine right by making a difference, showing compassion and respecting my fellow man.”
Writing by Tony Jimenez; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes