The fight for Mary’s Kitchen isn’t over, if you ask the dozens of community members, religious leaders, advocates and homeless people who filled the chambers of the Orange City Council meeting this week to rally around the soup kitchen. 

Tuesday night’s public comment campaign comes as volunteers at Mary’s Kitchen were put on notice by city officials last month, that the philanthropic operation which leases industrial lot space from the city has become a public nuisance and now has until Sept. 18 to vacate the premises. 

[Read more about the city’s decision to close the kitchen, here and here.]

Volunteers at the kitchen, aided by attorneys, have in turn told the city they plan to fight the closure. 

More than 20 people turned up to the meeting, some of them family members of the kitchen’s original founder, Mary McAnena, who began the kitchen several decades ago. 

“To shut down all these services in the middle of a global pandemic without any plan to supplant them is both irresponsible and inhumane,” said her great grandson, Matthew McAnena. “There is no plan to shelter, feed, to clothe or in any way help our most vulnerable residents to get back on their feet in their time of need.”

He added: “The metaphorical can is being kicked down the road and eliminating the services will just lead to an increased burden on the city’s resources.”

Council members said nothing in response, at times refusing to answer public questions toward them, citing state public meetings laws that restricted them from responding.

McAnena’s granddaughter, Peggy McAnena Carrillo, said the kitchen goes beyond a hot meal for people in need.

“It’s a place for them to find basic human needs that we all take for granted — a hot shower, washing machines, a place to charge their phones but beyond that there are intangibles. It’s a community — people that know them and care if no one has seen them in a while,” she said.

Other speakers, like Monica Engel of the Jewish Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, recalled how the kitchen inspired their own efforts to feed the homeless.

Engel said she got a lot of help from the kitchen’s current leader, Gloria Seuss:

“One of the things Gloria said to me has never left my mind, she said ‘I cook like I was making a meal for Jesus.’ That melts my heart, and I’m Jewish.”

Monica Engel

Heidi Zimmermann, one speaker and homeless advocate who helped organize people to come speak during public comments Tuesday, recalled a time when “we cared about everybody.”

“You’re killing people by the way you’re treating the homeless and I’m sorry to be so tough on you, but these are my friends,” she said. “What is wrong with you? You have no soul. When you sleep in the middle of the night, I want you to wake up and imagine what it’s like to not have a bed, to not have food.”

Heidi Zimmermann, one speaker and homeless advocate who helped organize people to come speak during public comments Tuesday

Homeless people like Bert Steensma said the kitchen provides a life-changing sense of hope for those out on the streets.

“They teach people by example, how to live, to respect everybody,” he said Tuesday night. “I think the greatest thing though, is their example. People that come out of prison need that example.”

“I needed it.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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