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The New Face of Neighbors in Need

The New Face of Neighbors in Need

ReachOut OC addresses the changing demographics of need in Orange County.

Lake Forest resident Price will challenge everything you think you know about hunger in Orange County. 

A client of South County Outreach, he shops at the nonprofit’s food pantry. He and as many as 3,000 other residents count on deliveries of emergency food and fresh fare every month just to get by.

But that wasn’t always the case. Price is the new face of need in Orange County.

His wife passed away a number of years ago, and he has been struggling to pay his bills and rent for the past few months. With dwindling resources, food became “an as-needed option,” he said, rather than the staple that most of us enjoy. He doesn’t qualify for food stamps because he earns too much money working as a private security officer. 

A neighbor introduced him to South County Outreach. “You can’t think when you’re hungry. I was skinny. Now I have food,” Price stated simply.

South County Outreach serves the underemployed, the unemployed, households in crisis and the homeless. In 2014, the organization will celebrate 25 years of assisting neighbors in need. 

Since the recession hit hard in 2008, South County Outreach and groups like it have responded to the changing demographics of need in Orange County. That’s why the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) introduced ReachOut OC in early 2009 to respond to the critical needs the recession brought to our community.

There was a dramatic spike in the number of people needing basic services — food, housing, medical care — and an equally precipitous drop in contributions to the very organizations providing these basic services. Nonprofits simply couldn’t keep up with the need.

Since launching ReachOut OC, OCCF has made great strides in supporting our neighbors in greatest need. Thanks to the generous contributions of community members, more than 100 Orange County nonprofits have received more than $3 million through this annual granting initiative.

South County Outreach is one of those nonprofits, receiving more than $100,000 in grants since the inception of the ReachOut program. “These funds are a consistent source of support that is instrumental to our ability to provide food, housing and rental assistance to more than 9,500 underemployed and unemployed families, seniors and veterans in our local communities annually,” said Lara Fisher, executive director of South County Outreach. “Our clients are indistinguishable from the general public. They are your neighbors, coworkers and families who go to school with your kids.” 

South County Outreach uses ReachOut OC funds to help people before they fall off the edge. 

Although leading indicators point toward economic growth and progress, too many in our own backyard continue to struggle, and some, simply, are in real danger. South County Outreach receives more than 150 calls each month from local residents who are facing an eviction or utility shut off. 

While ReachOut OC 2014 will make an immediate difference for many in need, its biggest success might be the realization that no act is too small to matter. Problems such as poverty and homelessness can feel so big that we feel we can’t make a difference. But the truth is that by working together, whatever we have to give in any measure— whether time, talents or treasure— can have a huge effect on someone like Price. To learn more about how ReachOut OC is helping neighbors in need, visit oc-cf.org/reachout. To find a nonprofit that provides basic services—food, housing and medical care— visit Nonprofit Central.

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].

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