An army received $50,000 from Disneyland on Thursday to pacify gangs, but it will be using the Bible and not guns to make its point.
The Salvation Army of Orange County was the top winner during the 36th Annual Disneyland Service Awards at the Disneyland Hotel for its yearlong efforts to keep the peace among Anaheim gangs. Disney gave $300,000 to 63 Orange County charities.
"In the barrio, God is cool," said Lt. Lee Lescano, head of the Salvation Army's local operation, explaining how the organization was able to head off a battle between two rival gangs, stage athletic tournaments between gangs and hold Bible studies that are attended by up to 200 gang members. "He gets gang members' attention. If the gang members come to Bible study, it gives their lives a whole new focus."
Lescano said the money may be used to purchase a vehicle to help transport gang members to the group's activities or to place more staff members in gang-plagued areas.
The Salvation Army and the other award winners were selected from 402 nominees by a committee of six, none of whom are affiliated with Disneyland.
Judy Argyros, president of the Argyros Foundation and chairwoman of the committee, was "really touched" as she read the applications and learned how volunteers are helping the community.
"After reading the applications, I don't ever want to hear this is a hard, cold world," she said.
Receiving special awards of $15,000 each were the Blind Children's Learning Center in Tustin and the Lestonnac Free Clinic, which provides medical and dental care to the indigent in Orange.
Dan Stanley, a board member for the learning center, said that the group has just moved into a larger facility and will use the money to buy computer and other educational equipment. He said the Disney money is needed because the recession is hurting all charities.
Sister Marie Threse Solomon of the Lestonnac Free Clinic said that the money will be used to bring continued medical care to the homeless. "We do not charge, so we can use all of this help, and we can use it in so many different ways," she said.
The top winners in each service category received $7,000. The categories and the winners were:
* Cultural arts: Orange County Children's Theater, which puts on stage productions featuring children 8 to 18.
* Educational: Boys and Girls Club of La Habra/Brea, which offers weekly tutoring programs for its members.
* Services for youth: Assistance League of Newport-Mesa, which runs a day-care center for underprivileged children.
* Accomplishments by youth groups: Mater Dei High School Christian Service Program, whose members gave 50,000 hours of time to various charities.
* Special health services: Make-A-Wish Foundation, which attempts to fulfill the dreams of children with life-threatening diseases.
* Accomplishments by support groups: ChildHelp USA, which operates group homes for abused children.
* Social community services: Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, which serves meals to 250 people five days a week in Costa Mesa.
* Civic community services: KOCE-TV Foundation, which supports the Huntington Beach public TV station.
* Services by or for senior citizens: FISH of Fullerton, which provides transportation for seniors.
* Environment, ecology and energy: Pacific Wildlife Project of Laguna Niguel, which operates a hospital that treated 2,000 animals last year.