Homeless and helpful

In the aftermath of the December floods, which swept through Laguna Canyon leaving in their path enormous devastation and debris, numerous members of the community have pulled together to clean up the town.

Many of those volunteers — seen shoveling mud, hauling debris, sweeping gutters and throwing their manpower into the dirty work — were the homeless.

"We have a group of really hard-working people here who care about each other and the community," said Donna Valenti, who runs the Laguna Relief and Resource Center in Laguna Canyon, which houses about 45 of the city's homeless folks. "When this disaster struck, many of them were more than happy to go out there and lend a helping hand."

An instrumental part in the initial cleanup of their neighboring Pacific Marine Mammal Center and Nursery, Valenti said the residents of the center have continued to show their support by assisting with relief efforts for more than 105 flood victims.

"For weeks they've transported ruined and donated furniture, helped sort through clothing, food and household donations for victims, and assisted me with everything from paperwork to answering phones because I've been so overwhelmed," she said.

"If it weren't for them, I'd still be holding two phones to my head," she laughed.

A volunteer at the center for three years, Valenti only recently came onboard full time, and immediately began implementing enriching activities like a job program, cooking and crocheting classes, and counseling for a group of people who she saw were eager to better themselves, work hard at something that makes them feel worthwhile and have an identity.

"So many people are afraid of our homeless, but what we have here is a great 'family' who really care about each other," she said. "I want the community to understand this — and when they come here and see for themselves, they do."

To learn how you can join the homeless in their efforts to help Laguna's flood victims, visit http://www.lagunareliefandresourcecenter.com.

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