Smith: Generosity Fuels The American Dream

Americans are great. We are a nation of givers – consistently ranking number one among all nations for our personal generosity to charitable causes. We are a determined people that refuse to accept poverty, injustice and disease without a fight. We are vigilant advocates for a better future albeit with often competing visions for what that future will be.

For nearly 100 years, Catholic Charities in Orange County has been part of the fabric of our community, serving the poorest of the poor. We are the starting line for the American Dream. We serve the down and out, the troubled, the refugee and the immigrant who come to our door, often as a last resort, to pick up the pieces and start over.

The holidays put a spotlight on our role in the community. This past weekend, more than 400 families visited our Cantlay Food Distribution Center in Santa Ana for our Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner distribution, which included a turkey, plus all the ingredients for a traditional dinner, all underwritten by the Knights of Malta, and distributed by their families and CCOC staff. The children all received from other donors a new T-shirt and each family 2 boxes of holiday lights. But more important than the bags of turkeys, vegetables, cranberries, bread and pies, there were smiles, hugs, joy and genuine gratitude from both the recipients and the volunteers and staff. We are indeed blessed.

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More than 500,000 people in Orange County live at or below the poverty level. Aside from our special dinners for Thanksgiving and Easter, every month the Cantlay Center feeds more than 4500 people and that number is growing. Even while the local economy recovers from the “Great Recession”, we have seen a striking increase in the number of homeless people who come to us for help. It is a worrisome trend. Santa Ana is number 57 on the top 100 list of most impoverished cities in America.

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We are in the business of hope, through life-sustaining services, help for the displaced or marginalized. In addition to food, the Cantlay Center also provides important necessities such as clothing, hygiene products and diapers – a lot of diapers. Catholic Charities provides counseling to enroll families in Cal Fresh and other assistance programs and help with finding housing, paying utilities and in some cases receiving immigration and naturalization services. In addition to the physical needs of our customers, we also attend to their spiritual and emotional health including various counseling and support groups for mental health issues, domestic violence and family counseling. In 2013, we inherited the New Hope 24-hour Crisis Counseling Hotline, a ministry established more than 50 years ago by the Crystal Cathedral Ministries and retained at the new Christ Cathedral. About 1200 people a month call in.

What makes America great is our heart, our determination and our optimism. For those starting out on the American journey, or who have stumbled on the path, we are here to help them now so they can “pay it forward” later. Tax deductible donations can be made by mail to Catholic Charities of Orange County at 1820 East 16th Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701, by credit card by calling 714-347-9628, or by visiting our website at www.ccoc.org.

Tita Smith, LCSW, Executive Director, Catholic Charities of Orange County

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