Bill and Jane O'Shields-Hayner say they're not the type of people to jump on every social bandwagon that passes their way.
But when their two young daughters learned that the Share Our Selves charity was being forced out of its lease, and insisted that the family make an effort to keep the organization operating, the Fullerton couple agreed to attend the Saturday rally to show their support for SOS.
"I just thought it was important--we shouldn't ignore it," said 11-year-old Rebekah. "I don't know how someone could think with such a cruel mind, that they don't want to look at these people."
The family joined almost 1,000 others Saturday under gray skies on the soggy park grass near the Rea Community Center to show solidarity for the 20-year-old agency, which offers food, clothing and assistance to those in need.
Last July, amid growing discontent about SOS among its neighbors, the City Council voted to cancel the charity's lease at the city-managed center, and gave SOS six months to vacate.
Since then, SOS has raised $300,000 in donations to relocate, and has appealed to the council to extend its lease a few months, rather than force it to move to a temporary location, and then move again to its permanent site. The council denied that request two weeks ago, but on Monday will again take up the issue, as well as Mayor Peter F. Buffa's proposal to help settle SOS in a commercial area.
Those attending the afternoon rally seemed determined to save the charity, despite the imposing political and financial struggles, as well as about 40 counterdemonstration picketers at the entrance to the park area, who flashed placards with a circle and red line through "SOS."
"We have a dream too," Jean Forbath, executive director of SOS, told the crowd, in reference to the Monday holiday marking the birthday of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "We'll get through this . . . and make a difference in Orange County."
"We have to ask ourselves, 'Why are people hungry? Why are people homeless? Why do people have to line up at SOS for the little we can give them?' " she asked those who sat wrapped in blankets or stood drinking hot coffee and tea amid the drizzle and blustery wind.
As supporters listened to the speeches of SOS organizers, prayers of religious leaders and an acoustic guitar player strumming folk and protest songs, they applauded and shouted approval.
Kathy McCoy of Costa Mesa sat on a blanket rocking her sleeping 6-month-old daughter, Lauren, snuggled in a blanket and fuzzy knit cap. McCoy describes herself as usually "passive" about political and social issues, but said the SOS story moved her and her husband, David, to action.
"I've been listening to the City Council meetings, and I just think it stinks what they're doing," McCoy said. "It comes down to, where are these people going to go? I think if anybody really looks at themselves, they would realize that it wouldn't take much for any one of us to be in that situation."
The picketers on the other side of the issue, who police say protested without incident, insist that SOS should be moved to a non-residential area, where the homeless and hungry won't infringe on the safety and serenity of the neighborhood.
"We're not against the homeless, we're for our neighborhoods," said Lee Litterell, who has lived in the area near SOS for six years. "We just want them to go to an industrial-type area, where most Skid Rows are. We don't want to be the Skid Row of Orange County."
After the rally, about 150 supporters of SOS walked the nearly three miles to City Hall, where a few dozen began a 50-hour fast and sleep-over that they plan to continue until the council meets Monday.
Said Forbath: "Even though we're not going to suffer very much, we offer it (the hunger strike) as a token of what we feel is a beginning, a small beginning."