Over 400,000 individuals in Orange County are currently experiencing food insecurity, according to Second Harvest Food Bank. With major holidays such as Christmas and Kwanzaa approaching, many in Orange County may not have the resources, time or financial means to provide a traditional meal for themselves or their families. 

COVID-19 led to sky-high unemployment rates and those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic have been left with no way of being able to pay for rent, bills or even groceries. As many households in Orange County continue to struggle financially, a sense of normalcy during the holidays can be hard to come by. Many face decisions of whether to purchase a Christmas tree for their home or to put that money toward the month’s utility bill. 

Nonprofits across Orange County recognize the stress many families may be facing at this time of year and with the help and support of local donors and volunteers, a number of OC organizations and community centers have created helpful programs and events to give back to these underprivileged communities such as food pantries, toy distributions and more. Many of these local nonprofits welcome donations from community members year round to help make seasonal programs like this possible. 

Bring Joy to a Family

Share Our Selves, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of health and comprehensive services with locations across the county, is administering its seasonal Adopt A Family program this month. In its 52nd year, the SOS Adopt A Family program offers struggling families a chance to be adopted by community members who are able to provide food and gifts for the upcoming holidays. 

Other OC Organizations Offering Resources and Ways to Give Back

Operation Santa Claus 

Operation Santa Claus distributes gifts and toys to children who are abandoned, abused, are part of the foster system and who come from disadvantaged families. Monetary and gift donations are appreciated and can be made at various drop off boxes in Orange County.

Community Action Partnership

Community Action Partnership’s OC Food Bank collects around 23 million pounds of food each year. This holiday season, donations made to CAP also help to uphold adopt-a-family programs, family sponsorships and ensure that families get to share a holiday meal together. Details for giving on their website.

Power of One Foundation

The Power of One Foundation is focused on putting an end to hunger and homelessness. This year, the nonprofit has a goal of providing 5,000 toys to children in need. Monetary donations can be made online and toy donations can be dropped off in person for anyone attending Night of Lights OC in Costa Mesa through Dec. 12.

Laguna Food Pantry

The Laguna Food Pantry provides free food items to anyone in need all year-round, serving over 800 families per week. Community members are welcome to drop off food donations during the food pantry’s business hours at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road, Unit B, Laguna Beach.

City of Orange Holiday Toy Drive

The Orange City Fire Department has teamed up with local nonprofits and charities to ensure that children in need receive some holiday cheer. Through Dec. 25, community members are welcome to drop off gifts and toys at any fire station in Orange.

Garden Grove Holiday Event

The city of Garden Grove is holding its annual toy drive in collaboration with the Buena Clinton Youth and Family Center, Magnolia Park Family Resource Center and other local organizations. Through community donations, the city is able to distribute approximately 1,000 toys to children.

Irvine Holiday Toy Drive to Benefit Military Families

Benefitting the families of Irvine’s 2/11 Marine Battalion, the city of Irvine is holding a holiday toy drive with drop-off boxes located at Irvine Civic Center, Irvine Police Department and the Orange County Great Park Visitors Center.

Donors can visit the Adopt A Family website to view an extensive list of families to choose from along with a short bio for each, including the names and ages of family members. Families for the program are chosen through a referral program through the help of other local organizations and community agencies. Many families are also referred by several schools in Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Orange and Garden Grove.

SOS chief programs and engagement officer Imelda Buncab says the goal this year is to provide some holiday joy to nearly 1,200 families in Orange County. As SOS upholds their efforts to mitigate COVID as much as possible, this year donors are only allowed to provide gift cards for families.

“The families do provide a wishlist where they list what stores they’d like a gift card from, such as Target or Northgate, as well as for what items they’d be buying with that money,” Buncab said.

Buncab added that although many families may not be able to participate in this year’s Adopt A Family program, there are still a number of other food drives and pantries across Orange County. Year round, Share Our Selves is available for medical, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health and social service resources for low-income individuals or those experiencing homelessness.

A Drive-Thru Food Pantry

Twice a month, the Seva Collective hosts drive-thru food pantries at either the Sikh Center of Orange County or Villa Fundamental School in Santa Ana, feeding over 600 families at each event. The Seva Collective is made up of volunteers all sharing the same goal of fulfilling the Sikhi concepts of Seva (selfless service) and Langar (free kitchen and meals for all). Formed at the onset of the pandemic, the Seva Collective came together as food insecurity became more and more prevalent in Orange County communities.

The collective’s next event is on Sat. Dec 18 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Villa Fundamental School in Santa Ana. At the drive-thru food pantries, families are able to circle back around as many times as they’d like through the various food stations which include bread, fruit, vegetables and more. 

“We also have a walk-up line for anyone who may not have access to a vehicle so that they are able to receive food as well,” said Bandana Kaur Singh, one of the leaders at Seva Collective.

At a previous event on Dec. 4, the Seva Collective also distributed holiday gift bags which included clothes, books, toys, blankets and more.The drive-thru food pantries are always open to anybody in the public with no registration required, however everything is first-come first-served, as long as supplies last. 

SCR Resurrects Its Food Drive

One of the leading theater companies in Southern California, South Coast Repertory has teamed up this year with the OC Food Bank to hold a food drive during the run of SCR’s production of “A Christmas Carol” from now through Dec. 26. The OC Food Bank typically distributes around 23 million pounds of food in one year.

Brian Robin, director of media at South Coast Repertory, mentioned that this is the theater’s first partnership with the OC Food Bank. Prior to its last food drive in 2019 with Second Harvest Food Bank, it had been 10 years since SCR held a food drive of any kind. This year, SCR’s goal is to collect 300 pounds of food from staff and audiences. Patrons will be able to drop off non-perishables in a food donation barrel in the theater’s lobby. For those patrons donating two cans, SCR offers a coupon good for $10 off a future SCR production. 

As a nonprofit, Robin adds that having a healthy and vibrant community plays an integral role to South Coast Repertory.

“Donating to SCR allows young people to see theater for the first time. It creates opportunities for children from underserved backgrounds to experience our Theatre for Young Audiences plays free. And it gives high school and college students free tickets to SCR’s mainstage performances,” Robin said.

Toys and More Available at the Honda Center

Families Together of Orange County is a community health center that offers wellness, health and medical services along with a community food pantry with locations in Tustin and Garden Grove. FTOC returns this year with its 17th annual Christmas Together event in which the organization aims to give out 20,000 toys to underprivileged children, making it the largest Christmas toy giveaway in Orange County. Last year, the nonprofit distributed about 6,000 toys through a modified drive-thru event.

Through various food and toy drives, communities give back to those in need this holiday season. Photo Courtesy of Families Together Credit: Photo courtesy of Families Together

The all-day holiday event will be taking place on Saturday, Dec 18 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Food, raffles, carnival rides and games will be available for families to enjoy together all free of charge. Although a free event, pre-registration is required for admission and in order to receive toys.

“Throughout the pandemic, the community has supported us in so many ways. And now, it’s our turn to give back,” said Alexander Rossel, CEO of Families Together of Orange County. 

“Especially with so many families who have suffered throughout the last year, we want to give them a day of fun and help them forget about any worries they might have. The goal is for them to just enjoy themselves on this very special day,”

Across all these nonprofits as well, volunteers are always welcome and appreciated especially at this busy time of the year. 

Crystal Henriquez is a writing fellow for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at crystalh774@gmail.com.

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