More than 320,000 people are at risk of going seriously hungry sometime during the month in Orange County, according to food bank officials. That's the total of people who are unemployed, on welfare, at or below the federal poverty level or seniors on fixed incomes.
'A lot of people in the county don't realize it, but there are pockets of poverty in every city in the county, including Newport Beach and Irvine," said Joe Bellis, marketing manager of the Community Development Council. The council, a nonprofit agency based in Santa Ana, operates a food bank serving 65 relief agencies in the county.
In 1985 more than 220,000 people in the county were at or below the federal poverty guideline of an annual income of $9,900 for a family of four, said Don Sizemore, council planning director. That figure is up 59% from 1980 when 138,000 people were at that level.
Contrary to popular perception, many people in this group are not unemployed or homeless, he said.
"We're not talking about people looking for a handout. It's an indisputable fact in the state of California that 55% of all the heads of poverty-guideline households work," Sizemore said.
People in Trouble
"We're not talking about a bunch of bums. We're talking about people who, for a variety of reasons, are temporarily in trouble," he said.
Despite having jobs, these people have a difficult time making ends meet, said Dan Harney, executive director for the Food Distribution Center. The center, run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Orange, services 191 nonprofit relief agencies.
"They may do well after they pay their rent bill, they may do well for two or three weeks, but the last week of the month they may go hungry," Harney said.
To lessen the hardship of hunger over the holiday season, numerous food drives are being conducted by social organizations.
The county's Health Care Agency is conducting a drive for canned food as part of its "Holiday Hope Project," said Nancy Berg, volunteer coordinator for the agency. The food, collected at area post offices, will be distributed to needy people at the county's outpatient clinics, she said.
The project also matches needy people with sponsor families. "If they're interested in getting personally involved with a family, they can be matched with a needy family or individual," Berg said.
Nonprofit private agencies are conducting most of the holiday food drives. On Thanksgiving, the Southwest Community Center in Santa Ana will put on a free dinner for 400 people, said Thelma Minor, a worker at the center.
The center tries to make a special effort at Thanksgiving for the homeless, she said. "The majority of the time, these people are on the street and don't have any family. We want them to feel like they're doing something special for the holiday."
The Salvation Army on Wednesday will cook free turkey dinners for 200 people, said Capt. Joseph Huttenlocker. The organization already conducts an on-site feeding program for 150 people a day, Monday through Friday, but need seems to increase during the holidays, he said.
"I think people are really more aware of their need because of so much advertising (during the holiday season). It kind of stresses out some families. They might like to have a special dinner but can't afford it. Maybe they're more willing to to come in and say, 'I need some help,' " he said.
Dee Warbington, outreach director for Catholic Charities in Santa Ana, said the group will try to distribute additional food baskets on Thanksgiving.
The group, which serves many Latinos, considers individual needs when assembling the baskets. "Different people from different cultures prefer different foods," she said.
It also considers people who are living in motels and may be cooking on a single burner, Warbington said.
The number of homeless people in Orange County is also high, the Community Development Council's Sizemore said. Figures from the Orange County Coalition for the Homeless show from 6,000 to 10,000 people in the county lack shelter, he said.
A group of homeless families temporarily living in a relief shelter in the Orange will prepare Thanksgiving baskets, then distribute them to other homeless people camping out in county parks.
Mike Elias, executive director of Christian Temporary Housing Facilities, said "They've been there. They know what it's like to be homeless."
These agencies are accepting food or cash donations for Thanksgiving relief:
- St. Vincent de Paul's Food Distribution Center, 426 1/2 W. Almond Ave., Orange. Phone (714) 771-1343.
- Salvation Army, 201 E. Cypress St., Anaheim. Phone (714) 778-5460.
- Community Development Council, 1440 East 1st St., Santa Ana. Phone (714) 547-6801.
- Orange County Rescue Mission, 1901 W. Walnut St., Santa Ana. Phone (714) 835-0499.
- Southwest Community Center, 1601 West 2nd St., Santa Ana. Phone (714) 543-8933.
- Brother Michael's Christian Mission, 233 Flower St., Costa Mesa. Phone (714) 548-3491.
- Share Our Selves, 661 Hamilton St. (in the Rea Community Center), Costa Mesa. Phone (714) 642-3451.
- Episcopal Service Alliance, 311 W. South St., Anaheim; 614 N. Bush St., Santa Ana. Phone (714) 364-2895.
- Christian Temporary Housing Facilities, 704 N. Glassell St., Orange. Phone (714) 771-2969.
- Catholic Charities, 2829 West 1st St., Santa Ana. Phone (714) 547-0003.
Also, any post office will accept non-perishable food items for the county's Holiday Hope Project.
Persons interested in becoming matched as donors with a needy family under the Holiday Hope Project may contact Nancy Berg at (714) 834-5585.