Anne Marie Panoringan
Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for eight years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.
Acknowledging the population struggling to put a meal on a table is one way to address the topic of food insecurity. Donating one’s time and money certainly helps the cause, but where do people nourish themselves when hunger is at the forefront of their concerns? I researched local resources to better understand what’s available for residents.
Delivering high-quality, balanced meals in a fun and dignified manner by way of a duo of food trucks, Bracken’s Kitchen has served over 1,629,096 this year, as of early December, working with a dozen local shelters. In addition, the nonprofit also distributes through other community partners (previous partners include Illumination Foundation plus Boys & Girls Club) and agencies at no cost, making up 90% of the weekly output done by this kitchen.
“With the ongoing impact of COVID, inflation and our economic woes, the work of Bracken’s Kitchen is more important now more than ever,” said founder Bill Bracken. “With that in mind during this holiday season, our team is working harder than ever to prepare as many meals as possible to ensure a merry Christmas for our friends and neighbors in need.”
Two additional shelters have been added to Bracken’s rotation. The 80 residents of Santa Ana’s Armory Cold Weather Shelter on Warner Avenue receive a hot dinner nightly. Plus the Bridge Shelter at Airway Avenue in Costa Mesa is provided breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
2-1-1 Orange County
A phone and text service, 2-1-1 Orange County utilizes trained information and referral specialists to help determine the best resources for one’s needs from its database of over 2,000 agencies in the nonprofit and government sectors. Specific resources for infant formula, baby food, children’s after-school meal programs and even pet food are available. It also offers referrals for housing, health insurance and job placement.
2-1-1 OC connects individuals from all cultural backgrounds, languages and income levels. Text 898-211 or dial 211 on your phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Andrew Gruel of Slapfish Restaurant Group showed compassion during COVID not only for people experiencing hardship but also as a prolific advocate for the restaurant industry as a whole. In 2021, the GoFundMe account created by Andrew and Lauren Gruel raised over $350,000 to support industry workers going through tough circumstances.
Patrons in proximity to his flagship Slapfish restaurant in Huntington Beach or Big Parm pizza concept at Mess Hall Market inside of Tustin’s Flight complex can communicate with Gruel through one of his social media platforms to request a meal. In addition, one can call ahead to the location (plus show this article while at either location) and explain his or her situation to receive a meal.
Meals on Wheels
The option for homebound older adults ages 60 and above to receive a delivered meal is an established service offered in many Orange County cities. By selecting the “Home Delivered Meals” topic from the 2-1-1 Orange County website, users will be redirected to a search engine used to locate their nearest provider. These nutritious meals meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) put in place by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. For further information, view the website for each provider that pulls up in search results.
Orange County Free Food Map
Overseen by Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, the food map has users input their zip code to generate a comprehensive listing of locations providing fresh ingredients, with most of the destinations being educational institutions. At these spots, a mobile school pantry is laid out in a farmers’ market-style distribution. One must take into consideration the day of the week and time of day when the mobile pantry is on site. Note: Items are not available for pickup at Second Harvest Food Bank; people must pick up food at the sites listed.
Sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, CalFresh — referred in the past as Food Stamps — provides monthly benefits for California residents in the form of a physical card called Golden State Advantage. The equivalent federal program goes by the acronym SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Used like a bank card, the benefit amount (also known as EBT, Electronic Benefit Transfer) added to the card is based on a formula factoring in household size, income and housing expenses.
To qualify for CalFresh, residents are required to make an appointment for pre-screening. Phone and in-person appointments are available and last between 30-60 minutes. FYI: The California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is another state-funded service specifically for qualified immigrants who are not eligible for CalFresh.
An extension of CalFresh, Market Match was founded by a group called Roots of Change to offer a monetary incentive to people who spend monies from their Golden State Advantage card at the farmers’ market.
Customers receive EBT scrip in the form of vouchers or tokens to spend when using their CalFresh card, plus receive additional funds in the same form good for the payment of fruit and vegetables only. Local partners include the Downtown Anaheim Certified Farmers’ Market and Orange Home Grown Certified Farmers’ Market.
Restaurant Meals Program (RMP)
Originally launched in the cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana in February 2018, the Restaurant Meals Program grants disabled, elderly and homeless recipients of the CalFresh Program access to prepared meals paid via their Golden State Advantage Card. Places are primarily corporate brands such as El Pollo Loco and Waba Grill with a few exceptions like Tustin’s Long Hai, Cafe Cultura in Santa Ana and Anaheim’s Eatalia Pizza. Use the search engine on RMP’s page to input an address or zip code and generate listings.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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