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Volunteers Help Share the Thanksgiving Bounty : Charity: Agencies in Irvine and Los Alamitos begin to distribute food baskets. Needy families are part of the fabric of middle-class communities, organizers say.


IRVINE — Talk about this master planned community and words like "tranquil," "safe," and "affluent" immediately come to mind. But for some local families "needy" is on the list too.

About 150 Irvine families, victims of the sour economy or just bad luck, picked up holiday food baskets Saturday morning from Irvine Temporary Housing Inc., which organizes the outreach program each year.

Donated by local businesses, religious groups and service organizations, the food baskets included not only traditional Thanksgiving fare, but also enough groceries to last through the week.

Earlier in the week, event organizers worried they wouldn't have enough food to meet the community's needs, but last-minute donations helped fill their warehouse. In addition to the Thanksgiving program, the charity helps feed about 1,200 families annually from its food bank.

"The Irvine community is really generous," said Margie Wakeham, the organization's director. "This is the time of the year people give so much that we can stock our food pantry until spring. We really count on this every year."

Meanwhile, about 20 volunteers with We Care of Los Alamitos also presented about 140 families with Thanksgiving food baskets Saturday morning at St. Isidore Church.

"It was great," said Paula Avchen, program director of We Care. "The families were very grateful."

In Irvine, the Trausch family was among the 100 volunteers who pitched in to distribute an estimated two tons of potatoes, 160 turkeys, aluminum cooking trays and other holiday staples. This is the second year in a row the Irvine family has participated in the charitable program.

"Some of the people, you'll never forget their sincerity and their true acknowledgment that what you've done has helped," said Tom Trausch, 47, who volunteered Saturday even though he was recovering from shoulder surgery and still had his arm in a sling. "It's so rewarding."

His 12-year-old daughter, Stacy, who handed out baby clothes to families, said she believes "it's real important to do this and to help your community, and help people get back on their feet."

The volunteers are instructed to safeguard the privacy of food recipients. For most families in this middle-class community, accepting food donations carries a severe stigma, organizers said.

"We know there are families out there who need the help and won't ask for it because they are too embarrassed," Wakeham said.

Irvine Temporary Housing itself suffered a loss two years ago when at least $80,000 disappeared. The group's former executive director, Clyde E. Weinman, was convicted of diverting the money for his personal use. In March, Weinman was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

In the days before Thanksgiving, the organization expects to hand out another 40 or 50 food baskets to families who couldn't make it into the center Saturday. The entire holiday production requires about six weeks of planning, but it's worth the effort, organizers said.

"This project is just plain hard work," Wakeham said. "It's a lot of lifting and sorting. It's not a lot of fun. But there is so much seasonal goodwill here. It's just tremendous."

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