Giving a family affair

Marisa O'Neil

They lined up a hundred deep Wednesday afternoon and loaded boxes,

carts and baby strollers full of Christmas goodies.

For the 19th year, the Costa Mesa Police Department handed out

food, clothes and toys for residents in need. Volunteers from the

department and the community filled shopping carts at the Westside

substation Wednesday with age-appropriate and family-appropriate

gifts and groceries.

The local families anxiously loaded the bounty into all modes of

transportation to get ready for Christmas.

And the giving's going on all around town.

"This is definitely the time of year people sometimes need a

little extra help," said Barbara Pender, program coordinator for

Costa Mesa's Share Our Selves. "They have extra family members show

up, and they need more food."

Share Our Selves operates a food pantry for those in need and

generally gives out about 200 bags of groceries a day, Pender said.

But around Thanksgiving and Christmas, they may give out as many as

300 or 400 bags a day.

Share Our Selves also held its annual adopt-a-family event Tuesday

and Wednesday. More than 1,300 families with children in Santa Ana

and Newport-Mesa schools will receive food, toys and other gifts

donated by businesses and residents, director of development Karen

Harrington said.

Gifts come in to the Orange County Fairgrounds by the vanload and

are sorted out for families "adopted" by volunteers.

"We're very blessed," Harrington said. "People are very generous."

Families needing aid don't necessarily match most people's ideas

of the poor, she said. Often, at least one parent is working but

barely making rent, she said.

The holiday season can place additional emotional stress on people

who are homeless or just scraping by, said Michael Arnot, executive

director of the Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter.

"Parents can experience tremendous guilt if they can't provide a

great Christmas for their children by themselves," Arnot said.

Those struggling to overcome a substance-abuse problem can also

backslide during the holiday season, he said.

The shelter provides 60 beds for the homeless each night and has

programs to ease people back into being self-sufficient. They also

have an adopt-a-family program and volunteers who cook special meals

or even arrange for visits from Santa Claus, he said.

"We want to give people as much of an opportunity as possible to

have a good holiday," Arnot said.

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