For many people, summer is a time for vacations and slowing down. But for organizations serving Orange County’s homeless and hungry, summer’s no time to take a break — especially when the economy’s struggling.
The Village of Hope in Tustin is an impressive, 200-bed housing complex for homeless men, women and children run by the Orange County Rescue Mission.
"We have a five-acre campus," said Alexis Broske, who works at the mission. "It’s pretty much everything you need right here. We have a cafeteria, clinic, chapel, housing all on-site."
The rescue mission provides housing for up to two years. Residents get some job training and lessons in life skills to ease the transition to the mainstream. The program relies heavily on local university students.
"Concordia does the after school center. UCI students work at the clinic on Saturdays," said Broske. "We have Pepperdine students who do mental health. Trinity Law students who do legal. So it’s been a really great partnership with a lot of those schools."
The Village of Hope campus is beautiful. On a quiet summer afternoon, a few groups are sitting and talking in a central courtyard that’s filled with colorful flowers and art.
But for Rescue Mission President Jim Palmer, the heat is on and there’s no time to kick back. "It’s the worst time of the year for us because we literally start to run out of food. And right now our organization is actually in that situation because schools aren’t doing food drives. Service clubs have all taken a break for the summer. All those sources have sort of dried up, but the need hasn’t."
Palmer says the need is growing, "because children aren’t at school receiving free meals, for those that do. And a lot of the infrastructure that supports children really isn’t available during the summer."
The Rescue Mission helped more than 3,000 people last summer. Palmer expects about 25 percent more people at his door year, thanks to the slow economy.
The Rescue Mission relies on private donations, and he’ll need more of them to continue helping people like Melissa Marr. Marr helps out at the daycare center on-site when she’s not in vocational school to learn what it takes to become an administrative assistant.
She came to the Village more than a year ago after finishing a drug and alcohol treatment program. She needed a place to live with her 2-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.
"For a single mother it is so hard, you know?" said Marr. "And now like I go to school full-time I get good grades, you know? I’ll be done with school in January and I’ll be job searching, and I feel like I have that support system, that hope, and I know that I’m going to make it."
A record number of people are receiving food stamps this year – nearly 4 million people in California. Palmer says he sees the increasing need for food and housing daily. The mission’s waiting list has grown to four months.
He says he could use more volunteers and food donations to keep up with demand. "It’s not that challenging. It’s literally going around your neighborhood and handing out paper bags and saying, 'hey, I’ll be back in a week to pick this up, and I’m going to take it down to our local rescue mission to help out homeless families.'"
The mission served a million meals last year. And this year, it’s likely to equal or top that. But Palmer will need to raise another $300,000 before the end of summer just to keep the doors open and food on the table.