Anyone who thinks affluent Orange County doesn’t have food insecurity should check out the long lines for the food pantries at these three sites: Helping House in Garden Grove, St. Timothy in Laguna Niguel and San Francisco Solano in Rancho Santa Margarita. They collectively serve hundreds of families every week.
SAN FRANCISCO SOLANO, RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA
San Francisco Solano Distribution Director Chris O’Connor described the need for his food pantry with a classic adage: “Give a man a fish, and it feeds him for a day. Teach a man to fish and it feeds him for life. But you can’t teach a man to fish without fishing poles.”
“The cost of living here is so high that we’ll keep on giving out food until there are enough fishing poles,” he added.
“My family is struggling so the food bank seemed like a great opportunity,” said first-time client Sara Sanchez.
-But how far will her Solano’s pantry food take her?
“Maybe it’ll take me for a week…just maybe, she said.”
The pantry has been helping those in need for over 30 years, and O’Connor sees it as more than a distributor of sustenance.
“I want clients to come empty and be filled,” he said. “It’s not just to fill their bellies. I want them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
O’Connor said they hope to re-open the pre-COVID prayer tent set up on distribution days. “People will be able to drive by and if they have a need, we can pray for them right there.”
Thirty-five volunteers were recently on the job at San Francisco Solano. They join in prayer before serving clients. After COVID hit, attendance exploded, and the number of families served ran close to 300. That figure is now around 170, but it is still almost a threefold increase from the original number of 60-70 families pre-pandemic.
A VOLUNTEER GREETS A CLIENT AT SAN FRANCISCO SOLANO CHURCH’S FOOD DISTRIBUTION SITE IN RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DIOCESE OF ORANGE.
ST. TIMOTHY, LAGUNA NIGUEL
Like San Francisco Solano, at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Laguna Niguel the 40 volunteers “follow the Gospel to feed the hungry,” according to co-manager Tina Haeussler. They serve about 120 families which adds up to 400 to 500 individuals when counting family size. The pre-bagged items include fresh produce and diapers.
Co-manager Nancy Doyle noted that lines have increased as food prices have risen.
Pre-pandemic, the pantry offered blood pressure checks done by nurses. Health is a problem for many of the clients, a large number of whom come from Laguna Niguel where the median home price is just over a million dollars.
Local client Roberto has four in his family, not to mention grandchildren with whom he also shares the food. He works as a server at hotel banquets, but the work is erratic.
Dawn, also from Laguna Niguel, has three in her family and is looking for a second job. She esteems the food, observing that some other pantries are known to give out substandard groceries.
VOLUNTEERS AT ST. TIMOTHY’S IN LAGUNA NIGEL ORGANIZE FOOD PANTRY ITEMS. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DIOCESE OF ORANGE
HELPING HOUSE, GARDEN GROVE
At Helping House on the campus of Christ Cathedral, Mary Lou Walters, chair of the ministry that runs the food pantry, explained that she was a special education teacher preparing to retire before becoming involved. She’s now the go-to person for new volunteers. She currently has 30 volunteers and counting.
“I love my volunteers, Walters said.
Tasks include food pickup, stocking shelves, filling grocery bags, setup, cleanup and staffing grocery distribution. Some volunteers were once clients, others have been UC Irvine students.
“We don’t have many homeless right now – maybe 10 or 12,” said Walters. “Clients are mostly low income or have lost their jobs. Some have been coming for years.”
Before the pandemic there was “client choice” where people chose in person from the pantry’s inventory. Now all items are pre-bagged, and the clients don’t leave their cars.
“Hopefully [client choice] will come back soon,” said Walters. “We like the interaction.”
Helping House also offers toys for children, diapers, sleeping bags, jackets, hats and scarves for the homeless, including help with utility bills.
“If it’s a small amount we pay it all; if it’s large we pay a part,” she said.
Three-year volunteer Ken Hickman explained where the food pantry gets its items.
“Second Harvest, Grocery Rescue, private donations and then we buy when we need to,” he said. “I do some purchasing myself.”
As with Solano and St. Timothy, there are no questions asked of new clients except their name and family size.
“Thursday is my favorite day of the week because we are actually helping people and not asking anything in return,” said volunteer Peggy Bergin.
FOOD PANTRY CONTACTS AND HOURS:
Helping House, on Christ Cathedral campus: 13280 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove. Food pantry: 714-971-2141. Hours: Thursday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and first Saturday of each month, 10 a.m.-12 p.m. For volunteering, call Mary Lou Walters: 714-287-4124 or 714-282-3097.
St. Timothy’s Catholic Church: 29102 Crown Valley Parkway, Laguna Niguel. Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 9-11 a.m., 949-249-4091, extension 104.
San Francisco Solano Church: 22082 Antonio Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita. 949-589-7767. Hours: Saturday 9-11 a.m. Distribution Director: Chris O’Connor, 714-348 3292. To volunteer: Fill out form at solanocatholic.org/foodbank.