One of the great ironies in modern American society is the massive homeless population that exists in part due to the collateral damage stemming from an over-increasing culture of prosperity. It seems that the more some have, the less a corresponding population has.
The numbers can be numbing. In the O.C., it is estimated that some quarter million citizens below the poverty line lack proper food, shelter and the basics for sustaining life. This number includes children.
Ask yourself: What would you do if you and your children were faced with eviction, without other means of support? It would be bad enough as an adult, but with children, the responsibility is daunting. Moreover, consider the emotional impact on a child losing the security of a bed, clothing, personal items and toys. The back seat of the car will not store a great deal, especially when it doubles as living quarters.
A recent economic forecast reported that a family living in the O.C. needs to earn an annual salary of $60,000 in order to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment. Reality check: A vast majority of the population earns half that amount annually.
It is no wonder we face a rising crisis, as the disparity between cost of living and earning potential grows further apart. Meanwhile, rents continue to rise. It is not a simple task finding a clean, safe, two-bedroom apartment for much less than $1,800 to $2,000 per month.
Despite the enormity of the challenge, there are citizens who care, citizens who know that society cannot ignore the plight of the less fortunate if it is to have a strong and stable foundation that benefits the greater good.
One such civic group, Serving People In Need, more commonly known as SPIN, has been quietly doing outreach in this community for nearly 30 years. SPIN began as a calling by local parishioners from Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach at a time when homelessness in the O.C. was substantially off the radar.
Yet founders and early participants recognized the conditions in communities such as Santa Ana and elsewhere in the county where prosperity was not as evident as in the coastal communities. SPIN provided street services, such as delivering food and clothing, as well as other lifestyle necessities for people living on the streets.
It is a practice and a commitment carried on today as volunteers, week in and week out, fight hunger and homelessness in the county. Over time, SPIN, led by Executive Director Jean Wegener and Development Director Kim Frazier, has expanded to include vital services such as employment counseling, health screening, rehabilitation and credit counseling. However, SPIN’s most vital service has become placement in permanent housing, which enables Orange County citizens to stabilize their lives and get a second chance in keeping the family together.
Today, SPIN serves a diverse population on a nondenominational and nonsectarian basis. It is supported by a core group of donors who fervently adhere to the concept, “There but for the grace of God.”
Last week SPIN held its annual fundraising gala, which organizers labeled “An Evening of Note.” The elegant evening unfolded in South Coast Plaza’s Jewel Court and was dedicated to the longtime support and generosity of South Coast Plaza and its merchants.
On the eve of South Coast Plaza’s 50th anniversary year, Oct. 22, some 230 guests of SPIN arrived and entered a ballroom created by the draping of ivory fabric, which created a cocoon of celebration. The purpose was to raise much-needed funds to place families and children in permanent housing.
The dinner committee, a small and super-dedicated, close-knit confederation consisting of women who have worked together for years on behalf of the cause, included Wegener, Frazier, Melonie Salata Fitch, Mary Lou Shattuck and Kim Crawford. With support from South Coast Plaza’s Debra Gunn Downing, Lee Healy and Katie Dixon, Jewel Court was transformed into an elegant dining room with verdant fall florals, flickering votive candles and shimmering plum-colored silk linens that set the mood for a special Saturday evening on the Orange Coast.
The dining experience was provided by Antonello Ristorante, with proprietor Antonio Cagnolo front and center alongside Executive Chef Gino Buonanoce in preparing a four-course Italian presentation. As the crowd arrived for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, an army of polite waitstaff served creative delicacies to patrons Karen Nichol, Suzi and Joe Pulice, Jason Brandi, Barbara Johnson, and Suzette and Michael Barnes. Enjoying a touch of caviar were Dave and Diane Reed, Robert and Gail Sebring, Sue and Don McGraw, Linda and Dennis Gallagher, Barbara Weaver, Gisela Campagne, and Wayne and Mary Lou Shattuck.
As the cocktail hour ended, prominent guests — including Scott Lieberman, Peggy and Frank Listi, Florence and Keith Smith, Edward Rimpau, Joe and Heidi Heffington, Chuck Kanter, Molly Downing, Al and Susan DeGrassi, and Richard and Kim Crawford — took their seats and proceeded to raise significant funds in support of SPIN’s year-long housing placement activities. It must be noted that the funds raised were done with the raise of a hand.
There was no auction, simply an ask in support of the community need. More than six figures was donated generously.
A young woman named Dasha brought the crowd to its feet in a standing ovation after she shared her personal story. Her mother, a victim of spousal abuse, had nowhere to turn and ended up at SPIN’s door when Dasha was a young girl.
“SPIN saved our lives,” Dasha told the audience, explaining that the stability of a permanent home in a safe environment enabled her to go to school and fit in with other children without stigma. Today, Dasha is a graduate of Georgetown University and holds an executive position with Deutsche Bank.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by producer Joey Sapone, who created a marvelous vocal performance starring Pia Toscano of “American Idol” and Dez Duron of “The Voice.” Dancing until the Cinderella hour was provided by celebrity DJ John Lock, one of the cast members of the hit TV series “Glee.”
VIPs in the crowd included Charlie Grandville, Maureen Flanagan, Christine Weiner, Rachel Owens and Danni Remington Smithson. Honorary chair of the evening was Elizabeth Segerstrom, managing partner of South Coast Plaza.
B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.