Cuts eat at lunch program

Deepa Bharath

Judy Adams' real home is a few miles away from a bunch of rooms where

she gets her mail and goes to bed.

Adams, who was diagnosed with severe depression and suicidal

ideation about 12 years ago, is a regular at the Mental Health Assn.

of Orange County's Costa Mesa Clubhouse.

The clubhouse is simple but warm. The biggest room has a cozy

fireplace and couches informally arranged. There is an office and, on

the other side, a dining area where members eat lunch and socialize

three days a week.

It's nothing out of the ordinary when you look at it, but to Adams

and many like her, the clubhouse is a safe haven, a support and a

boon.

"It seems like I've been here forever," she said. "I haven't even

kept track of how long I've been coming here. It's my family. You

just don't keep track of how much time you spend with your family."

The clubhouse has been in existence for almost five years. Funded

by the county and the state, it provides an environment where people

with mental illnesses can interact with one another and enjoy each

other's company, coordinator Beth Woods said.

But the clubhouse is in danger of losing its lunch program because

of state budget cuts, she said.

"Our whole program revolves around lunch time," she said.

The place is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and

Friday. Lunch is at 12:30 p.m., and each day an average of 30 people

show up for lunch and stay for the remainder of the day, Woods said.

On Mondays, Woods takes them out for field trips. Otherwise, they

hang out at the clubhouse, watching movies, enjoying arts and crafts

or just talking, she said.

The lunch program is important because it's probably the only

decent meal many of her members have in a day, Woods said.

"Not necessarily because they can't afford it," she said, "but

because they have no one to share it with. It's like breaking bread

together."

The lunch program costs $3,000 a year, money that hasn't come in

for the clubhouse this year.

"We're barely keeping it alive," Woods said. "I haven't shopped at

the grocery store in four months. I've been hitting the food drives

at the church. Our own members have been bringing in food, so they

can keep this going."

A busload of clubhouse members even went to Sacramento in May to

participate in a rally to protest state budget cuts that affect

health programs.

On Wednesday, the lunch menu was hot dogs, nachos, beans and pink

lemonade. The decibel level in the room was higher than the number of

food items on the menu. There were laughs, big smiles around the

tables and even a few hugs here and there.

"It's the best thing that's ever happened to me," said Arlene, who

wouldn't give her last name.

She started coming to the clubhouse almost three years ago and is

glad she found it.

"If not for this place, a lot of people would just hibernate at

home," said Arlene, who was diagnosed with severe depression and had

a major breakdown three years ago. "It's important for us to just get

up and go somewhere."

The clubhouse provides them a safe place, where they're not

stigmatized or judged, Adams said.

"It's hard for us to accept ourselves," she said. "Other people

try, but it's hard to understand, unless you go through it yourself.

This setting makes it easier for us to accept our illness. We

understand that we have an illness, but the illness is not who we

are."

Paula Fratiello heard about the clubhouse from a friend.

"If we don't have this, a lot of us would fall apart," she said.

"That's how important it is for us to come here and socialize. I look

forward to coming here three days a week. I wait for those days."

Chris Dovey, a speech major at Orange Coast College, practices his

speeches on his friends at the clubhouse. He was diagnosed with

paranoid schizophrenia three years ago.

"This is a little place that helps you out," he said. "I come here

all the time. People talk about going to church and how that makes

you feel good. This is the best church I've ever been to."

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