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‘How are we going to feed Costa Mesa?’ Community members give supplies to 1,200 families

Volunteer Kelly Evans, right, directs traffic during a drive-through giveaway at IKEA in Costa Mesa, where 1,200 low-income families received emergency food boxes filled with essential staples such as rice, beans, pasta and fresh produce on Thursday.
Volunteer Kelly Evans, right, directs traffic during a drive-through giveaway at IKEA in Costa Mesa, where 1,200 low-income families received emergency food boxes filled with essential staples such as rice, beans, pasta and fresh produce on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Bag of onions, in. A box of clinking canned goods. Bananas, pineapples, a big juicy watermelon.

Load it up, close the trunk, onto the next.

That was the routine 1,200 times Thursday morning as volunteers loaded supplies into the cars of needy families under the blazing sun outside the Costa Mesa IKEA store.

Starting before 9 a.m., cars snaked through the store’s two parking lots, lining up behind the 14-tent stations where volunteers gathered in not-so-socially distant groups to hand out the supplies from the Community Action Partnership of Orange County food bank.

“This comes with some risk — you’re around people,” said Andrea Marr, the Costa Mesa councilwoman who helped spearhead the distribution. “We’re not able to stand six feet apart as we’re loading the truck. But these are people who think the need is important and they’re willing to help.”

“I was just so excited to get out of my house and do something I felt was useful,” she added.

Volunteers Kyle Dornhofer, left, and Jackie Farr organize food packages for the drive-thru giveaway at IKEA.
Volunteers Kyle Dornhofer, left, and Jackie Farr organize food packages for the drive-thru giveaway at IKEA.
(Kevin Chang /Staff Photographer)

Marr, her colleague on the council, Arlis Reynolds, and Costa Mesa community organizer Anais Tangie first began hearing from families and residents about a need for food in the city about three weeks ago.

“The question was how are we going to feed Costa Mesa,” Tangie said. “[Families] were just destroyed, so many friends losing their jobs. … They were scared, they didn’t know what to do.”

The three women met over Zoom to brainstorm and work out the kinks to an idea that germinated into a full-blown operation involving nearly half a dozen local organizations, over 100 volunteers and about 60,000 pounds of food.

Around 5 a.m., two Goodwill of Orange County trucks, packed with food from the Orange County food bank, rolled onto the IKEA lot. Volunteers, who had signed up to help through the collaborative nonprofit organization Trellis, began arriving a half hour later, many adorned in “Love Costa Mesa” T-shirts. The Power of One Foundation, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit that is also conducting food distribution at the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana, trained them on the workflow.

“I love it. I hope it stays like this. I hope everybody still comes together, is polite like everyone is — a lot more thankful.”

James Barkley, a Goodwill truck driver, on volunteers coming together to help those in need

Even before 9 a.m., cars packed the expansive parking lots. Marr, Reynolds and Tangie had asked several community organizations — including Save Our Youth, Project Hope Alliance and Share Our Selves — to invite their participants to the giveaway. Within three days, Marr said, 1,000 people had signed up for supplies.

“Give everything that you can get out,” Andre Roberson, founder of Power of One Foundation, instructed his army of volunteers.

Food pantries across the county have been swamped since the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, said Isabel Carpenter, Trellis’ director of operations and volunteer engagement — many have had to close. Meanwhile, more families are flocking to them, hungry.

“I’ve heard numbers like the need has quadrupled,” Carpenter said. “It’s just a really crazy strain on the system.”

Hundreds of vehicles line up for a drive-thru giveaway at IKEA in Costa Mesa, where 1,200 low-income families received emergency food boxes filled with rice, beans, pasta and fresh produce on Thursday.
Hundreds of vehicles line up for a drive-thru giveaway at IKEA in Costa Mesa, where 1,200 low-income families received emergency food boxes filled with rice, beans, pasta and fresh produce on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

James Barkley, a Goodwill truck driver from Costa Mesa, watched the well-oiled operation from a shady spot beside his truck.

“I love it,” he said, surveying the scene of colorfully masked workers delivering supplies. “I hope it stays like this. I hope everybody still comes together, is polite like everyone is — a lot more thankful.”

The team is working on coordinating a second food distribution next month, with the goal of making them regular occurrences, Tangie said.

“Costa Mesa came together in a beautiful, beautiful way,” she said.

The next phase, Tangie hopes, is to repurpose IKEA’s cafeteria kitchens into food canning and preservation areas. She also hopes to transform the farmers market that typically runs at the Orange County fairgrounds into a drive-through market at the IKEA parking lot.

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