For many Southern California residents every passing day makes them at a greater risk of becoming homeless due to widespread job losses caused by COVID-19.
In an effort to stem the tide, multiple Orange County area organizations are working around the clock to coordinate donations with volunteers and to get the aid to those who need it most.
There are many resources available but connecting the dots is easier said than done.
Three local non-profit organizations, Power of One Foundation, Official No One Left Behind and the Orange County Food Bank, teamed up with the City of Santa Ana and Northgate Market on Saturday to help combat hunger in Santa Ana and Orange County communities.
With the help of a hardworking team of volunteers who showed up at 5 a.m., and in coordination with the Santa Ana Police Department, they held a special emergency food assistance drive-through distribution operation on the Santa Ana College campus and managed to provide for 20,000 people in 4,000 cars in a span of just six hours.
“I started in January, right before Covid started. I got involved with Power of One Foundation and Official No One Left Behind and then Covid hit and we started going from monthly distributions to weekly now,” said Chelo Falker, operations manager for the event.
“Our thing is hunger shouldn’t exist in the world because there’s enough food, but it’s not distributed properly, so we’re working with Move for Hunger. It’s been encouraging to see the amount of people that are moving together to get things done, not to mention our volunteers,” said Shawnee Witt, secretary of both Power of One Foundation and Official No One Left Behind.
“Communities always need to come together but in a time of crisis it’s never more needed,” Witt added.
The members of both organizations are volunteers and have managed to grow them into success by contributing not only their time, but also their own money.
“None of us have ever been on salary, we just run it out of our hearts and we’re moving toward grants and now we have eyes on us that want to help, especially in a time of crisis, so we’ve got some traction for support, which is really exciting,” Witt said.
The impact of Saturday’s event could be felt for miles on the surrounding city streets, with traffic routed by the Santa Ana Police Department in an attempt to maintain some form of a line. At one point a blue Nissan nosed its way in toward the top of the line and a nearby Santa Ana police officer pointed at the car and simply stated, “You. Out!”
“The wait time was anywhere from four to six hours just to get on to the campus, and then once they got onto the campus it was about a 20 minute drive through the campus before they got their groceries,” said Ray Wurt, a Santa Ana College campus safety officer.
Anyone in line who entered the campus by 2 p.m. received a large box filled with between 60 and 80 pounds of groceries that included staples such as cooking oil, potatoes, meat, tortillas, milk, fresh fruit and canned goods.
The Saturday distribution event will be ongoing as the organizations attempt to keep pace with the growing need as the crisis unfolds.
In addition to food banks, multiple Orange County area organizations are offering help with partial rental assistance, utility assistance, phone bill assistance, child-care assistance, healthcare assistance, social services and legal aid assistance.
The Salvation Army of Southern California (salvationarmy-socal.org)
The Salvation Army of Southern California has a partial rent assistance program and a utility assistance program. The organization’s website states that to qualify one must be either 18 years or older or a parent/guardian. For complete details go to the organization's website.
According to the outgoing message on its phone system, as of this time the assistance fund for the month of April has been exhausted and those in need for the month of May are instructed to contact the organization starting April 27th.
YMCA of Orange County (ymcaoc.org)
The YMCA of Orange County is offering childcare for essential service workers at multiple locations throughout Orange County. The fee is $60 per day or $250 per child per week but financial assistance is available.
Share Our Selves (shareourselves.org)
Costa Mesa-based ShareOurselves.org (SOS), is a center that also provides, “high quality, comprehensive safety net services to the Orange County community.” In addition to health and dental care, it offers financial assistance and social services to qualifying individuals and runs a food pantry Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. which, according to the website, distributes an average of 235 bags of groceries in a day.
The Orange County United Way (unitedwayoc.org)
The Orange County United Way is another resource for those in need. Its website provides a comprehensive list of services available and it partners with 211, a free emergency assistance hotline that can be accessed by dialing 211, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
John Garcia, an information and referral specialist who has worked in mental health and crisis services for 25 years, said 211 provides community resources for people in need.
Additionally, the organization is actively fundraising to offer relief to the hardest hit and most vulnerable.
A spokesman said Orange County United Way is working to raise money for its Pandemic Relief Fund, which will support low-income individuals and families at imminent risk of homelessness, those already homeless, low-income students. More information is available at https://www.gofundme.com/f/pandemic-relief-fund.
When it comes to immediate assistance, these relatively small, volunteer-driven organizations are proving that community is a great asset.
“It’s these tiny programs right now that are doing the heavy lifting and so hopefully it will open an eye to the county and other programs or funding,” Garcia said. “We get thousands of calls and people need our help.”
As many businesses remain closed the need for assistance has grown exponentially. These organizations are actively seeking volunteers. Financial donations, which are tax deductible, are also welcome, as are donations of food and other items. Details can be found on the organizations’ websites.