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Hungry Come and There’s Always Food

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a pale sun hid behind a hazy, gray sky. A chilling autumn wind started blowing through the trees of Pioneer Park in Garden Grove.

The gloomy weather made the park a distinctly unpleasant place to be. But more than 400 people, many of them children, suddenly appeared at the park shortly before 3 p.m. Quietly, and with orderly dignity, the street people formed a long queue. They were waiting for the weekly “miracle” of food provided by Bernice Ranford and her friends.

For the past seven years, Ranford has supervised the feeding of Garden Grove-area homeless and hungry people every Sunday at Pioneer Park. The feeding effort is done without a formal organization, without meetings and with no governmental aid.

“I think meetings and organizations can be terrible,” said Ranford, 66, who is a retired nurse’s aide. “I simply tell people who want to help to bring their food here. We set up tables and give out the food. We don’t need an organization.”

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From week to week, the number of food donors varies. But Ranford said enough volunteers always show up each Sunday to provide sufficient food for the ever-growing number of hungry, unemployed people.

Mardi Reynolds of Garden Grove, a friend of Ranford’s and one of the Sunday volunteers, said: “It’s like the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There always seems to be enough food to go around.”

To the homeless of Garden Grove, perhaps the real “miracle” has been that Ranford’s lone effort to feed hungry people has magnified so greatly.

“When I first started bringing food here seven years ago, there were only about 10 people here,” Ranford said. “And today, just look at the number of people here--about 400 this Sunday and that many last Sunday. Some Sundays it goes up to 500 people. Of course, we’re seeing more people than ever because of the layoffs and bad economy.”

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Ranford, a native of Minnesota, said she first started volunteer work with the poor about 10 years ago in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. She said she moved her efforts to Garden Grove, where she and her husband, Al, live, about seven years ago.

“People told me there were hungry people in need around Pioneer Park, and so I just cooked some food and brought it here one Sunday seven years ago,” Ranford said. “I’ve told other people, and they’ve also come here bringing food on Sundays.”

Ranford and other volunteers from time to time also bring used clothing to the park. Ranford said that because of the cold weather and bad economic times, the poor seem desperate for clothes. “You put out a pile of clothes for them, and it’s quickly gone,” she said.

Ranford said she is always gratified when the word spreads and more volunteers show up at Pioneer Park on Sundays at 3 p.m. “When people cook food and bring it here, they can see for themselves where it goes,” Ranford said. “There’s a real need for it. Especially in these bad times with so many people being laid off.”

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Bernice Ranford, 66

Occupation: Retired nurse’s aide

Organization: Feeds homeless in Pioneer Park, Garden Grove

Address: Cooked food and used clothing may be brought at 2:45 p.m. every Sunday to Pioneer Park, on Chapman Avenue between Harbor Boulevard and Haster Street or call (714) 971-8054.

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