Homelessness in O.C.: Spotlight on Volunteers

Chef Rae Glenn
Giving back to those who helped her

A food service chef  in Irvine, Glenn is in the kitchen even when her workday ends. As a volunteer for Orange County Rescue Mission, she’s at the Tustin-based locale three Saturdays a month, planning and cooking dinner for more than 200 people. Every other Thursday, she does the same for Laurel House, the Mission-sponsored shelter for teenage girls. And, unless it’s raining, you’ll find her working the grill at the Mission’s barbecues, held at a park in Orange.

Those healthy meals include a substantial side of hope: Not that long ago, Glenn hit a financial downward spiral and was living in shelters.

“I had to figure out who I was, what I was capable of. I came to the realization that life was more than hustling and getting by.”

She credits the Mission’s programs with providing her a safe place to turn her life around, and she embraces the notion of paying it forward. “It’s more than serving someone a plate of food or looking them in the eye. It’s about developing a relationship with people in need.”

Chef Bill Bracken
Making sure the needy eat well

Bracken hasn’t changed his style of cooking, which won him acclaim at Peninsula Beverly Hills and the Island Hotel Newport Beach. But he has different diners now.

The Fountain Valley resident left luxury hospitality and in 2013 founded Bracken’s Kitchen, a nonprofit organization to combat food insecurity. With food donated from Solutions for Urban Ag, Chefs to End Hunger, and other suppliers, Bracken and volunteers serve free three-course meals across O.C.

“Our focus is on people living on an economic cliff who often choose between food and other life necessities,” he says.

Since its founding, Bracken’s Kitchen has served 26,601 complete, hot, and healthy meals, often from a bright red food truck named Betsy.

Every week, he receives an average of 950 pounds of food that otherwise would be wasted. Food truck visitors often take home an additional meal for the next day, and partner programs also distribute meals from Bracken’s Kitchen to those living in poverty.

“We are nourishing not only their bellies, but also their soul,” Bracken says. “We are giving them hope.”


Fullerton Police Corporal Ginny Johnson
Offering options while on the beat

Johnson, 38, was assigned to the department’s Homeless Liaison Unit about 10 months ago. “Our goal is to help people who are homeless and in need of help. Homelessness itself is not a crime,” Johnson says. How about trespassing or causing disruptions? “Those can be prosecutable offenses,” says this 12-year veteran of the force.

When asked about success stories on the beat, she mentions the man she encountered in a residential alley during a routine call. He was angry and suffering from mental illness. Still, he listened as she asked if he was interested in getting off the streets. With the help of the nonprofit Coast to Coast Foundation, the man was accepted at an Anaheim shelter. “He later texted me to say things were going OK,” Johnson says.

Fullerton had only one officer assigned to this unit when Kelly Thomas died after being beaten by police in 2011. (Two Fullerton officers were acquitted on murder and manslaughter charges  in Thomas’ death.) Today the unit has four officers. They work with a mental health clinician and with the area’s nonprofit and faith-based groups. Johnson acknowledges that the job has its frustrations. “We can’t make people accept help. That’s a step that they have to take.”

Cathy Dulin, Volunteer Liaison
Trying to get the homeless to accept help

As a Coast to Coast Foundation volunteer, Dulin goes out in Huntington Beach, accompanied by police officers, looking for homeless people in the city. “When we go out at 5 a.m. we have a better chance of finding people,” says Dulin, who distributes packets of toiletries or food as “an icebreaker.” As she explains, “We want to find out how they got where they’re at, and if they’re interested in getting off the street.”

It’s tough. Folks with mental health and addiction issues aren’t interested. “But I’ve seen some people get shelter. And if someone who is clean has a caring relative somewhere who will take them in, we’ll sometimes get them a bus or plane ticket.”

The homemaker and mother of adult children has been doing this for about a year. “During my walks to the beach, I used to see the encampments. Then I read an Orange County Register article about Coast to Coast Foundation. I wanted to see a change, so I got involved. My hope, each time we go out, is that someone will say they’re ready to get help.”

Wondering how you can help? Check out our guide.


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