Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on how the recession is affecting the Newport-Mesa area.
Bob Jordan got in his company van, set a single cup of water in a cup holder to quench his thirst, and headed off on the route that he’s taken nearly every Monday for the last 12 years.
The van, one of two owned by the Westside nonprofit Share Our Selves, maneuvered its way out of the cramped parking lot on Superior Avenue, inching around parked cars and families who had come for their daily needs.
With the morning still cool, Jordan ventured to the pink rooftops and hillside views of Newport Coast — a neighborhood just a few miles away but a world removed from the people who line up every morning for food, medicine and job counseling.
The Newport Beach resident worked for decades in the food industry, handling production and sales for Nabisco and Sunshine Biscuits. He’s since retired but now does a food job of a different kind: Jordan drives to three locations around Newport-Mesa to collect leftover food for the Share Our Selves kitchen.
“It’s not something that’s going to serve them the whole week,” Jordan said en route to his first stop.
“It’s supplemental food. A lot of them are on food stamps and get most of their food that way.”
At the same time, Jordan — and Share Our Selves’ other drivers, who make the rounds six days a week — know that every bite counts. The nonprofit gives out about 300 bags of food every day to people who can’t afford to buy it, and Jordan makes a point to refuse nothing.
Not even on a day like Monday. When Jordan arrived at Pavilions in Newport Coast, he found seven shopping carts in back, most of them heaped with hot dog buns. But food was food, and he opened the back of his van and started bagging and boxing.
John Harvey, the dock manager at Pavilions, sets food out for Jordan every Monday about dawn. When bread or pastries near their expiration date but are still edible, the store cleans them out and leaves them in back for Share Our Selves. Monday’s allotment was on the generous side, which is how it’s been for a while.
“We give as much away as we can,” Harvey said as Jordan signed off on the shipment. “It’s probably a little heavier now in terms of donations, because people aren’t buying as much food.”
Since the recession broke, Share Our Selves has had no trouble finding donors for its pantry, even if the supply still varies a little day to day. The drivers who go out every morning pick up leftovers from Trader Joe’s, Mother’s Market, Odwalla and Starbucks, plus many restaurants and doughnut shops around town.
In the past, the nonprofit has sometimes passed extra food to soup kitchens and rehab homes in the area, though that hasn’t happened lately.
Jordan, 77, exercises during the week to stay in shape for all the lifting. He uses the bicycle and treadmill at his condo complex. Share Our Selves, he noted, is hoping to get more volunteer drivers, preferably younger ones, because some of the current guard may not hold out much longer.
“A lot of us are getting up in the age where we just can’t do it anymore,” Jordan said.
After the first Pavilions, it was off to another in Newport Beach, where Jordan walked to the bakery counter and found three more shopping carts waiting for him. Again, the food was all baked goods. Share Our Selves gets bread and pastries for free from the supermarkets, but buys its more perishable items — meat, dairy, eggs, produce — from Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.
Since the recession began, Share Our Selves has mostly been able to meet demands for food, but it’s had to stretch its dollars out more.
Vanessa Ontiveros, the nonprofit’s operation manager of social services, said her staff is buying 40% more food from Second Harvest than in the past, and, likewise, giving out 40% more bags of food per day than a year ago.
Monday is the best day of the week, as restaurants provide prepared items left over from Sunday brunch. Later in the week, the supplies get thinner.
Recently, the nonprofit added a number of new restaurants to its donor list, including Pizza Hut and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and the new allotments have helped.
“Our need is growing,” Ontiveros said. “So we’re happy to get some new variety in there.”
Jordan made his last stop of the morning at Starbucks in the Metro Pointe at South Coast shopping center in Costa Mesa.
“I’m here for the SOS pickup,” he told the woman at the counter.
A man emerged a minute later with a plastic container of pastries, plus two spare blueberry muffins on top. By now, the back of the van was filled floor to ceiling, and Jordan barely managed to close the side door.
The van pulled back into the Share Our Selves parking lot at 10:30 a.m. Inside, dozens of volunteers stuffed bags in the pantry, while clients at the front desk filled out forms indicating how many people they needed to feed. Other questions on the form include “Do you live in a motel?” and “Do you have cooking facilities?”
The pantry provides food weekly for low-income families and daily for homeless ones. In between the bread and produce are shelves containing toiletries, hygiene products, diapers, even birthday party supplies. Sometimes, Share Our Selves has to go without milk, juice and other items, but the harvest was rich today.
Among those bagging goods was Matthew Gula, a first-year student at Orange Coast College who volunteers for Share Our Selves two days a week. Gula, who grew up in Newport Beach, said his volunteer job had been an eye-opener.
“I’m shocked to see how bad it gets because of the economy,” he said. “I’ve never seen this kind of stuff before. So I’m glad I’m helping.”
The pantry had been open since 8 a.m., but clients were still streaming through. Share Our Selves closes its doors at 2:45 p.m., though the pantry sometimes stays open a few minutes longer to meet demand.
The people stopping by Monday were a varied crowd — young and old, single and in groups, English-speaking and not. Lorenzo Mendez, a Costa Mesa resident, said through a translator that he had lost his job recently and was picking up free groceries for the first time.
Alex Rodriguez, a former salesman who has been out of work for a year and a half, stopped by to collect food for his wife and two teenagers. The Orange resident said he also gets groceries through his church, but makes a run to Share Our Selves when his supplies diminish.
“It makes a huge difference,” Rodriguez said. “Every little bit helps.”