She Trusts O.C. to Respond to Her SOS


Don’t get Karen McGlinn wrong.

She is grateful to finally realize a dream--the creation of an Opportunity Center next to Share Our Selves, a Costa Mesa volunteer agency serving the needy.

At a Saturday benefit, $100,000 was raised for the project, which will convert a barn-like building--once home to a “Cheers”-type bar and grill--into a job training facility.

But McGlinn dreads taking the project before the people of Orange County to begin the process of getting the center up and running, she says.


“In my experience, people often say [of such projects]: ‘You serve an unworthy population. Why have programs for an unworthy population?’ ” says McGlinn, 54, director of Share Our Selves.

“What I hope is that, since we are really talking about training the poor and giving them skills, there will be a more receptive mood.”

McGlinn is quick to add that she appreciates what the people of Orange County have done on behalf of Share Our Selves.

“The moral conscience of Orange County is alive and well, or we wouldn’t have SOS, an agency that for 27 years has been privately funded, staffed with volunteers and is doing good works. But it’s a tenuous balance you have to constantly fight to keep,” she says. “People say, ‘Go ahead and help the poor. But not in my backyard.’ ”

McGlinn was among 200 who attended Saturday’s Share Our Selves dinner benefit at the Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Center in Costa Mesa.

There, guests dined on fare cooked up by chefs who will help educate the needy at the Opportunity Center. The center will contain a kitchen and classroom where people such as “welfare recipients who are low-skilled and nonworking,” McGlinn says, can be trained for jobs in the food service industry.


“Chefs like Michael Kang [of Five Feet in Laguna Beach] and Alan Greeley [of the Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa] can teach them how to cook,” she says.

The kitchen would also be used to teach nutrition classes. “Dietitians from Hoag Hospital and UCI will teach our people how to adjust their diets to diseases they have been diagnosed with,” McGlinn says.

“Having a medical clinic on our site, we have chronic-care patients such as diabetics. And we have young mothers with kids who have no concept of health and nutrition.”

Says Greeley: “This would be an upscale soup kitchen, so to speak, because it will allow the disadvantaged to learn about cooking--from raw ingredients, right on through.

“With this county so full of food producers, it seems ludicrous that anyone should go hungry.”

Kang loves the idea of helping the disadvantaged “learn a new skill so they can become productive--be funneled back into the work force,” he says.


Once the food-training program is in place, Kang would like to take the Share Our Selves dream a step further.

“We could take that kitchen and turn it into a restaurant where people are actually getting experience,” he says. “It would be a training field, run by a manager and chef, where people could learn to be everything from a cook or waitress to a cashier or bookkeeper. After six months, they would be rotated out to find jobs, and new students would be rotated in. All profits would go right back into the program.”


On a recent sunny morning, some of Share Our Selves’ 421 volunteers were at the center, sorting out surplus food collected from county restaurants and supermarkets.

After breaking down the food into manageable quantities, the volunteers distributed it to the needy. Share Our Selves distributes 300 bags of groceries daily.

Occasionally, Share Our Selves will receive a quantity of food that is too large--”100 pounds of frozen hamburger, for example,” McGlinn says--to break down and give away. The new Opportunity Center, with its training kitchen, would allow chefs to use those large quantities for cooking classes.

“The chefs would use the food to teach a class, then we could break it down and distribute it to the poor. All of the food cooked in our new training kitchen would be given away.”


Next year, McGlinn hopes to conduct six eight-week training programs that will each contain 30 people. “That is our vision for our first year,” she says, “to train 200 individuals. That would be ideal--terrific!”