On a recent Sunday night, Andy Barr and Sammy Smith chatted quietly as they walked toward Barr's dark green van parked at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. They made an odd pair -- Barr, 53, a real estate broker from Arlington who has made millions buying and selling houses, and Smith, 83, an affable man who makes his home on the streets of Washington.

When they reached the corner, the duo stopped. Just a few blocks away, the National Christmas Tree glowed red, blue and gold and young carolers sang of good tidings and cheer. But neither man seemed interested.

"Let me see your hands," Barr said.

Smith complied.

Barr stared intently at one of Smith's parched hands and muttered, "looks like a medium." With that he climbed into his van and emerged a few seconds later with a pair of gloves and a sleeping bag, both made by L.L. Bean.

"I sure do appreciate this," said Smith, taking the sleeping bag and gloves that complemented the wool hat and sweater Barr had given him a week before. "Thank you, Reverend," he said.

"Oh, I'm no reverend. I'm just a real estate man," Barr said.

Andy Barr is part of an increasing number of residents in the Washington area who are making a commitment to help the homeless.

That commitment takes many forms -- some people make sandwiches, others volunteer to staff soup kitchens and shelters, some donate money or clothes, said Mitch Snyder, founder of the Community for Creative Non-Violence.

But Barr is somewhat unusual.

Few people have the resources to donate nearly $15,000 worth of L.L. Bean sleeping bags, hats, gloves, cargo bags, jeans and sweaters, even with a company discount of 15 to 20 percent.

And few actually go to the parks, grates and subway stations to talk to the homeless.

"I like to see the people I help -- to touch them on their arm, to shake their hand. It benefits both the recipient and the donor. I almost never refuse {to give them things} even if they come back for seconds," he said.

A self-made man, Barr recalls being hungry once himself -- for money.

For more than 20 years, he devoted himself to real estate, buying houses with no money down.

He wrote several books on the subject and even founded his own real estate school.

But several million dollars later, Barr found his appetite for money was more than satisfied. So he closed his office in the late 1970s and started working just a few hours a day, spending the rest of his time enjoying hobbies such as camping and helping out worthy causes, he said.

Until this past November, Barr said he confined his charitable activities mostly to giving money to churches and charities as well as to such individuals as Lenny Skutnik, who rescued a survivor of the Jan. 13, 1982, Air Florida crash.

Barr felt Skutnik made a difference.

Barr said that shortly before Thanksgiving he saw a news story about a man who makes 100 sandwiches for the homeless every week.

It moved him to help.

Not sure what would be most beneficial, Barr called Snyder and asked him what he thought about giving sleeping bags to the homeless.

When Snyder told him it was a good idea, Barr wasted no time and ordered 100.

Barr gave the first 50 to CCNV volunteers to distribute. Snyder had encouraged Barr to go with the volunteers, but he declined.

"It was cold and windy that night. And Andy Barr didn't want to go out, didn't want to see. But then the next time when I did go out with them, I saw that it was much better giving in person," Barr said.

On Thanksgiving, Barr decided not to go to his sister's home near Atlantic City, N.J. Instead, Barr said he went to the Mall to give out more sleeping bags and $500 in $10 bills.

"It was wonderful to see people using these sleeping bags. I feel I am among friends," Barr said.

"It's such a turnaround. He never did anything like this before," said Edwina Ogden, Barr's sister. "He lives alone and I was worried about him being alone on Thanksgiving. But he said this past one was the best he had ever had. Money doesn't seem to be a problem in his life. It's almost like the challenge is gone. He has been successful. Now he has another goal in life."

Bert Sikkelee, a minister at Herndon United Methodist Church and an acquaintance of Barr's for four years, said he was not surprised to hear that Barr was helping the homeless.

"He's a kind-hearted, smart, highly motivated man whose mind is always racing. If he sees someone who needs {help}, he hands it out. That is very much in character with Andy," Sikkelee said.

"He's doing a good thing," Snyder said. "Best of all he is expressing concern and going out of his way trying to help these people. That is as important as the material things he's giving out. The recognition that someone cares."

In the next few months, Barr said, he would like to distribute waterproof ponchos and shoes. Today, he plans to help shuttle people from the CCNV shelter to the Washington Convention Center for a Christmas Eve dinner. And Christmas morning he will give out more sleeping bags, socks and other items to help buffer the cold.

"I identify with these people and can see parts of myself in them," Barr said. "I am not a hero."